As someone who used to live in a major international hub, I know what it’s like to be under the stress of living in a big urban city. It’s loud, it’s crowded, it’s fast paced, and people can be, well, rude. Urban living is stressful in a way that a small city can’t be. I think we all know deep down that big cities are more stressful, but is there any evidence to back up that feeling?
According to a recent meta-study on LSE Cities, Urban dwellers have a 20 percent higher chance of developing anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher chance of developing mood disorders. For schizophrenia, the risk is nearly double that of smaller cities. The study also showed an increased likeliness in depression based on the amount of time an individual has lived in a big city.
There are several specific theories as to what contributes to urban mental health issues. One theory is that the physical distance between people can cause stress. If there are too many of us driving for example or too many of us in the same store, it can cause stimulation stress. The addition of loud noises, lights, and trains are also stimulus overload. This stimulation overload puts our body in a constant state of alert, which creates built up stress and tension in us over time. This built up tension can then lead to a nervous breakdown, panic attack or chronic anxiety.
Stress also leads to many different chronic diseases that are on the rise in urban cities. According to WebMD, stress can increase the likeliness or intensity of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and gastrointestinal issues.
With all the above problems, many people are turning to therapy services to deal with urban-induced stress. In fact, to correlate this, Chicagobusiness.com noted that in 2015, occupational therapists were one of the most in-demand jobs in Chicago (one of America’s largest cities). The increasing demand for therapy is higher in the major cities compared to small cities.
However, the stress of living in a big city isn’t just causing stress for those that live there; it’s causing people to leave. A recent article in The Atlantic noted that nearly 1 million people have moved out of New York City since 2010. In addition to that, California, the most populated state in America has had a net loss of 800,000 residents from 2005 to 2015.
There are many reasons as to why residents are leaving big cities and big population states such as cost of living, taxes, family planning and well, stress. Overall, the reasons seem to be mounting against the idea of big city living. That perhaps living in a big city is not only difficult for tangible reasons but also for mental health reasons.
So what can you do to help with stress if you live in a big city? Spend time outside of the urban centers. Go to local parks or go out of town entirely. Give yourself a break from the constant fast-paced stimulation of the city, so your body has a chance to relax. Put some distance between yourself and large crowds and focus on spending more time with close groups of friends. In essence, give yourself a smaller city experience from time to time.