Is life in the big city good for you?
A couple of weeks ago a friend and I started talking about London and what this city has done to us since we moved here. We talked about being more stressed, more tired and having a lowered tolerance for coping with with crowds or public transport.
When I first came to London I used to love the tube. I spent days just travelling around the city, exploring different areas. I rode buses for hours and didn’t care about being crammed between people loudly snacking on food or with music blaring out of their headphones. I didn’t mind the crowds in central London or rush hour on the tube. I walked around feeling awestruck and in love with the city.
Perhaps that early infatuation with the city shielded me from the parts of London that are busy, stressful and draining. Today I avoid rush hour on the tube. Unless I absolutely have to I will choose other travel options. I try to walk as much as I can. I long for green spaces, for nature and for some peace and quiet.
In a city like London you’re confronted with waves of stressed out people, traffic, pollution and noise every day. It’s hard not to let that wear you down. And it’s not just me thinking like this. Recent articles have shown that urban living can be bad for your mental health.
A study at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany discovered that city dwellers’ brains didn’t handle stress as well as the brains of people who live in the countryside. Urban living has also been found to increase anxiety disorders and mood disorders by 21 percent and 39 percent respectively.
Some researchers suggest our brains aren’t wired to live in cities and suggest so called loneliness in crowds is the cause of a lot of big city pain. The theory is that if we feel isolated when we’re constantly surrounded by people it can lead to depression and anxiety.
I grew up in a small town, with the countryside close by, and I couldn’t wait to escape to the big city. The small town felt stifling and when I moved to London I loved the freedom of exploring new areas of the city, knowing I would never bump into anyone I knew.
But after five years in London I’m longing for the countryside and a closer connection to those around me. It’s like a humming inside my bones, I want to wake up and breathe fresh air, I want to look out of my window and see fields.
I also know it’s easy to long for what you don’t have. Perhaps the countryside would get stifling and boring after a while and then the fast-paced life of the big city would seem a lot more attractive again. In the end it’s worth making the best of where you are.
I still love this city and I right now both Gerry and I need to be here. Our work is here, our lives are here and like so many Londoners we’ve managed to cope with the stress of city living. After a while you mostly stay within your own area and you stop seeing friends who live far away. Going out and experiencing all those amazing things London has to offer doesn’t seem quite as exciting as an evening on the couch. You get to know your local cafe, your local bar and a few local restaurants and you’re happy staying in your own postcode. This is one way of coping, but there are other ways to deal with the city madness.
In the next blog post I’ll put together a small survival guide for city-dwellers longing for the countryside.
Images by David Marcu.