During an experiment led by by Dr Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, the researchers tried to find out how the brains of different people handle stress.
They provided to the volunteers some confusing maths problems to solve in a short unit of time, trying, at the same time, to put the volunteers under stress while time was running out.
As stated in The Guardian:
‘They discovered that city dwellers’ brains, compared with people who live in the countryside, seem not to handle it so well.’
To be specific, while Meyer-Lindenberg and his accomplices were stressing out their subjects, they were looking at two brain regions: the amygdalas and the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC). The amygdalas are known to be involved in assessing threats and generating fear, while the pACC in turn helps to regulate the amygdalas. In stressed citydwellers, the amygdalas appeared more active on the scanner; in people who lived in small towns, less so; in people who lived in the countryside, least of all’, as Benedictus (2014) states in his article Sick cities: why urban living can be bad for your mental health, published on The Guardian.
Surely, these results are not unexpected, since it is commonly known that living in the city leads people to a much more hectic lifestyle. Everything is as crowded and chaotic as the pace of people’s everyday lives.
City life though, can be perceived also as a big environment full of possibilities like ‘improved sanitation, nutrition, contraception and healthcare’ (Jha, 2011) that, often, the countryside cannot offer.
But most of the times, people need to be strong enough to not let the vortex of the metropolis swallow them.
It is necessary being able to control the amygdalas of our brains, to avoid that the fear takes the control on our lives; and to do so, it is necessary a good and healthy connection between the amygaldas and the pACC, otherwise being swallowed by our fears can reveal as a really easy process.
As further results of the already quoted experiments claim:
‘In the urban group moreover, there seemed not to be the same smooth connection between the behaviour of the two brain regions that was observed in the others. An erratic link between the pACC and the amygdalas is often seen in those with schizophrenia too. And schizophrenic people are much more likely to live in cities.’ (Benedictus, 2014)
The stress can be one of the primary causes of the surge of our mental system. When one is exposed to a large dose of stress, it is much easier that abnormalities can affect a specific area of our brain that is very sensitive to stress.
In fact, urban living is also associated with ‘increased risk for chronic disorders, a more demanding and stressful social environment and greater social disparities’, as Jha (2011) affirms on The Guardian with his online article City living affects your brain, researchers find.
A metropolis can be conceived as a huge hole full of colours, sounds, information, events, activities, smog, technology, and so on.
Can this elements be considered in terms of progress or regression?
Having our own place in the world is a sensation that the city has the power to give you and take away from you at the same time.
Many are the sustainable programs aimed to the welfare of the city.
Programs than can easily turn into solutions against those ‘social threat, lack of control and subordination [that] are all likely candidates for mediating the stressful effects of city life, and probably account for much of the individual differences.’ (Jha, 2011)
An example is the city of Nottingham, that has adopted a strategic program that brings together ‘the public, private, voluntary, community and faith sectors to work for change in the city.’ (Nottinghamcity.gov.uk, 2016).
A strategy aimed for the development of the mental and physical health of its citizens, and that has led to ‘[the] rapidly improving education services, significantly reduced crime, improving health amongst the city’s residents, and a popular tram service’. (Nottinghamcity.gov.uk, 2016).
Urban living can be a tremendous factor capable of destroying our mental health. However, there is always a possibility to avoid the development of this alarming mental process.
Nottinghamcity.gov.uk. (2016). [online] Available at: http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=10663&p=0 [Accessed 28 Apr. 2016].
Benedictus, L. (2014). Sick cities: why urban living can be bad for your mental health. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/feb/25/city-stress-mental-health-rural-kind [Accessed 28 Apr. 2016].
Jha, A. (2011). City living affects your brain, researchers find. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/jun/22/city-living-afffects-brain [Accessed 28 Apr. 2016].
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