Most city folk (present company included) wouldn't trade living in the downtown core for anything, but the stress of living in the city is indeed top of mind -- especially after reading findings from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and the Central Institute of Mental Health. According to researchers, being born and bred in an urban setting is linked to a greater lifetime risk of anxiety and mood disorders.
Published in the journal Nature, the research involved comparing rural and urban dwellers in a series of functional magnetic resonance experiments. City dwellers showed more of a stress response in the part of the brain called the amygdala (which is involved with emotions and mood).
Furthermore, if you grew up in the city, the part of your brain known as the cingulated cortex is more active -- this cortex being the area that regulates stress and negative emotions.
While packing up and heading for the hills is not an option for most of us -- and we now have little control over where we were born and bred or how our brain functions -- we can, find effective ways to alleviate stress. Here are four simple ideas.
Practice mindfulness meditation. In a recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was found to be as effective at relieving depression as traditional antidepressant medication.
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Downward dog your way to being stress-free. Yoga beats out walking and other forms of physical activity when it comes to improving mood and reducing anxiety level, according to The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. How so? Yoga helps to increase a chemical in the brain, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps regulate nerve activity. GABA is low in those with mood and anxiety disorders and, as such, drugs that stimulate GABA activity are often prescribed to them.
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Keep a journal. If the last time you wrote in a diary was as a tween, you may want to try your hand at it again. Journaling has been shown to reduce stress by allowing you to clarify your feelings and emotions and make sense of what you're experiencing. It's also been tied to helping improve health conditions such as asthma.
Get physical. Exercising will give your body an endorphin boost (endorphins being the neurotransmitters associated with feeling good) and promotes better sleep and greater self-confidence. It will also help you forget the day's stresses by focusing your brain on fitness goals instead of work concerns.
Karen Kwan is a health and lifestyle freelance writer based in Toronto. She also has a blog, Health & Swellness.