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Stress, the city and the apartment dweller


Stress, the city and the apartment dweller

nickj June 23, 2011

When people think about cities, the image of a crowded street almost always comes to mind. Racing taxis, people rushing to work, a bad commute – everything that could bring a person stress. There's even the stark contrast of the image of the countryside, where calm is king. 

To complement this picture of city life, new international research shows that city living may actually be chronically stressful. In fact, city dwellers are more prone to mood disorders and anxiety during their lifetime.

"Previous findings have shown that the risk for anxiety disorders is 21 percent higher for people from the city, who also have a 39 percent increase for mood disorders," says co-author Jens Pruessner. "In addition, the incidence for schizophrenia is almost doubled for individuals who are born and brought up in cities." He hopes that the new data could help experts treat these problems through changes in public policy, neuroscience and social sciences.

Basically, living within a city appears to put more stress on the amygdala, part of the brain that is responsible for mood and the regulation of emotions.

To get to these results, Pruessner and his colleagues put 92 healthy volunteers age 18 to 80 through the Montreal Imaging Stress Task, a math quiz that is primarily designed to cause stress and make people fail. While the participants performed the test, researchers monitored their brain activity.

The researchers hypothesize that city dwellers are "hyper-sensitive" to stressful situations. Overall, this could be a big problem in the coming years, as more people move into cities and population continues to increase.

"It is important to take time off," Puesnner told The Montreal Gazette. "Find time for recreation as that is known to bring stress levels down and help you cope."