City Stress: What Buildings and Trees Do to Your Mind

city stress

Stats on City Dwelling

Fifty percent of people globally live in urban areas[3]. By 2050 it’s estimated that seventy percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas[3]. Urbanization has its advantages such as improved transportation systems, better access to services and amenities and industrial growth. However, urban living poses itself as a risk factor for mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and major depression[5].

What is “City Stress?”

As early as 2008, researchers found that urbanization had an effect on mental health[4]. Coupled with the lack of resources and an inadequate workforce to tackle mental health issues; urbanization took a toll on many urban dwellers. The study revealed that urbanization had an effect on the entire gamut of the population. However, vulnerable populations such as the urban poor, the elderly, children, adolescents and women were most affected.

With congestion, pollution and noise in urban cities majority of individuals live amongst a sea of human beings either rushing off to work or school or some meeting. In this tapestry of people, one may argue that there is adequate human interaction which is crucial in promoting holistic physical and mental growth and development. However, this isn’t the case for some urban dwellers.

In the midst of towering skyscrapers and waves of noise and pollution, many people are affected negatively by the highly stimulating and stressful environment of urban cities. It must not be noted, however, that there are certain protective factors that urbanization offers against mental health disorders. For example, immediate access to mental health facilities for mentally ill patients and the presence of well developed and sustainable coping mechanisms such as support groups.

But just like coins, there are two sides of the story of mental health in urban cities. There is evidence to suggest that social stress may be the most important risk factor for mental illness in people living in urban areas[5].

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What does stress do to our bodies?

Mazda Adli, a senior physician in the field of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, wrote an article on urban stress[5].

Stress like all emotions causes our body to produce a cocktail of hormones. There are two major hormone systems which play a role during stress. The first one is the quick responding system which controls the release of noradrenaline and adrenaline. The second slower system is responsible for the release of cortisol: better known as the ‘stress hormone’.

The first system is in charge of the fight or flight response. It prepares us to react immediately to a particular event. The second system adapts to stress and is a regulatory mechanism, roughly speaking. Studies in mice show that repeated exposure to stress promotes obesity, premature aging and is toxic to particular regions of the brain especially those for memory[5].

As urbanization continues, there is need to explore the two sides of urban living: the protective as well as the threatening factors in mental health. Fortunately, nature offers a solution.

Feeling City Stress? What to do to get your daily dose of nature in the city

Here are few things you can do to get a daily dose of nature in urban areas:

  • Find parks or natural open spaces near you that you can frequently visit.
  • Consider outdoor activities(outdoor theater, sports in parks, swimming in outdoor pools and weekend getaways,etc)
  • Connect with others on Meetup groups interested in seeking adventure in the great outdoors.
  • Find a routine that includes scheduled time outdoors (walks before or after work, weekend trips, etc.)
  • For air pollution consider an air purifier for your home. We recommend IQAir HealthPro Plus or IQAir GC MultiGas (Use this discount code IQ50470 for 5% off at IQAir)
  • For water pollution consider using a zero-waste reverse osmosis system under the sink OR use a quality water purification system like Multipure.

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 Sources and References:

  1. Nature Rx Part 1
  2. Nature Rx Part 2: Discover your dose of nature
  3. Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature
  4. Rapid urbanization – Its impact on mental health: A South Asian perspective
  5. Urban Stress and Mental Health

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  • Do you feel that you have tried many things and either nothing works, or the treatment does not hold?
  • Have you been told that there is nothing that can be done to reverse your illness and you just need to manage symptoms?
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Dr. Miles has spoken for the following organizations:

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