Have you ever thought about how where you choose to live affects your happiness? Well, apparently the impact can be sizable — and city dwellers often fare the worst. A recent story by Alice Park over at Time — “Stressed in the City: How Urban Life May Change Your Brain” — explores recent research indicating that urban living leads to greater stress, more mood disorders and more psychotic illnesses. The research indicates that living in a city can actually change how your brain functions, making you more sensitive to fear and anxiety — basically, we’re constantly on the lookout for threats when compared to suburban or rural dwellers.
Writes Park: “The researchers think it is the social aspects of urban living — the stress of living and dealing with lots of people, and feeling more anxiety, fear and threat as a result — more so than other urban factors like pollution or noise that explains the higher stress-related brain responses among the city dwellers… Although it would seem that the more people were faced with stress, the more they might tolerate these annoyances and even become immune to them – thus lowering, rather than increasing their threshold for triggering the stress response — the new findings suggest otherwise. Even after years of city living, people remained highly alert and anxious, which indicates that the stresses of city life may be both constant and diverse and not easy to adapt to.
Me, I thrive on living in a city — the bigger, the better — and I start lightly hyperventilating any time I have to wander into the suburbs. Even cottages make me slightly nervous for the first couple of days. (Possibly a result of watching so many slasher films as a child; I always have to keep picking up the phone to make sure it’s working.) Give me Hong Kong and New York City over Charlottetown. But even though I love the city, I can recognize its stresses: the noise (man, machine, raccoon), the at-times-frustrating crush of people, the higher cost of living, the lack of accessible green space (and when you do find it, you can’t take your shoes off in case of hypodermic needles or Cockapoo poop), the filth (man, machine, raccoon), something. And yet, whenever I return to the city after a rural or suburban sojourn, I always exhale.
So maybe the anxiety itself — something to push back against — is part of what makes me happy? Who knows. Just don’t expect me to visit often if you move out to the suburbs. All of that calm and quiet freaks me out.