A 2010 meta-analysis using data from 20 studies of the population found that city living has been shown to increase occurrences of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Other studies show increased activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain that is related to fear regulation, in people who reside in major metropolitan areas. Otherwise known as the “urban effect”, city dwellers experience an increase in negative emotions and stress when compared across settings.
Overall, city living is stressful. Here we examine five practical tips to invest in your own mental health in the city:
With urbanization, comes a disconnection from nature which tends to lead to mental disorders such as depression. A 2015 Stanford study found decreased negative emotions in those that walked in nature. Time in nature has a positive effect on mood, improves cognitive function, and decreases the effects of anxiety. Stroll through Central Park or take a hike on Inwood Hill Park Hiking Trail. Feel the fresh air fill your lungs and take in the beauty nature has to offer.
Accessing nature is one way to improve mental health. One major way to invest in your own mental sanity is to find ways to access nature. According to Andrea Mechelli, a neuroscientist at King’s College London recently published a paper that suggests that exposure to trees, the sky, and even birdsongs in the cities is beneficial to mental health. So, make sure that you look for those things wherever you find yourself.
Another way to improve mental health is through meditation. Meditation not only relieves tension and reduces anxiety, but it also increases oxygenation to the brain leading to lower cortisol levels. Although meditation centers are plentiful, you can try it on your own using a YouTube video. Once you learn the techniques, try it in on the train ride home.
Exercise is not only beneficial to physical health but also benefits mental well being. Walk, play tennis, join a gym, or take a bicycle ride to release mood-boosting endorphins. It will reduce stress and protect you from heart disease by lowering blood pressure, strengthening heart muscles, and helping maintain a healthy weight.
Did you know that comedy can be beneficial to mental health? Laughter relaxes the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for 45 minutes after. Additional benefits include boosting the immune system, releases endorphins, and improves blood flow. Find what makes you laugh. Spend time with friends or walk to a comedy show. Laughter really is the best medicine!
Lastly, find time to relax. Turn off your phone, your laptop, or find a quiet room to take a break. Recognize when you need to recharge your batteries and do it. There are many techniques if you need some help getting started. A quick search for breath focus, guided imagery, body scan, or mindfulness meditation might be a good first step. Or, find your favorite person to hug. This simple act increases oxytocin and serotonin, relaxes muscles, and relieves tension in your body.
While the stresses experienced from living in the city are numerous, there are many available activities to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health. Try some of these ideas today, and share below how they have helped you reduce your stress.
Remember, if you feel overwhelmed, depressed, or isolated, emotional support is available:
NYC Well 888-NYC-WELL or text “Well” to 65173
Samaritans Crisis Response Hotline 212-673-3000