For hundreds of thousands of years, humans lived in small tribes, connected with nature and free to roam. We hunted and gathered. We rarely encountered strangers, and we bonded with our tribespeople for life--learning how to destress was about as foreign as a 747.
While our ancestors definitely had some major issues to deal with (like starving in the winter or being eaten by lions), life today looks nothing like it did for most of human existence.
Today, unlike our not-so-distant ancestors, most people live in frenetic, fast-paced cities brimming with stimulation, sugar, and a dense pack of strangers. Not to mention the noise and constant commotion. Human culture has evolved faster than our brain chemistry, and many of us are ill-suited for urban living.
Big City Stress: Science Says the Struggle Is Real
Scientists have long known that rates of mental illness are higher in the city than the countryside. Recent studies show that living in a city “impairs your ability to deal with social stress” and, according to Scientific American, is associated with “depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse."
Even for city dwellers who don’t develop a serious mental illness, urban living can foster a sense of generalized anxiety that doesn’t ever seem to really go away.
How to Destress from Urban Living
Are you caught in the grip of the city madness? It’s essential that you take proactive steps to destress in order to protect your mind and body from the unnatural city environment.
- Seek Out Nature. Make it part of your daily routine to walk through a park, green space, or other natural setting. Without being glued to your phone. Even looking at pictures of natural scenery can have a restorative effect, so plaster images of majestic forests, beautiful beaches, and snow-capped mountains around your office and home.
- Turn Strangers Into Friends. Being surrounded by a bunch of strangers all the time can make you feel suffocated. It can also make you feel lonelier than actually being alone. Instead of wallowing in that feeling, reach out and make a new connection. Say hi to your neighbor in the elevator. Ask your barista how her day is going. Smile at the cute guy on the street. Making friends, or even trying to, will make the city seem friendlier.
- Own Your Introversion. City life is particularly anxiety-provoking for introverts, who are often shamed in American society for not being social enough. Recognize when you need to recharge your batteries, and beware of “friends” who try to guilt you into going out when you really don’t want to.
- Insist on Breaks, Big and Small. Have you ever heard someone brag about working 18 hours a day? Of course you have. Being busy is a badge of honor for many people that confirms their importance. But do you really want to look back at your life when you’re old and think of all the vacations that you didn’t take? Refuse to be one of the many people that never uses their vacation days, and schedule breaks throughout your workdays as well. Your mental health may depend on it.
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