Most big cities boast about the raucous vitality of their thriving communities as well as the multiplicity of services, venues, and events. But for many people, big cities can be intimidating, a sensory overload of noise, smell, color, light, and unending activity. Some studies suggest that, because of the stress involved in city dwelling, urban residents may have a 20% higher susceptibility to anxiety and mood disorders than those who live in rural areas.
So what can you do to deal with anxiety in big cities?
By definition, big cities are densely populated. Tens of thousands walk the streets, eat in restaurants, and pack the buses and trains. Even those who are not usually uncomfortable in crowds may feel some anxiety navigating the swift stream of pedestrians in midtown Manhattan at lunch time.
Many psychiatrists believe that anxiety in crowds stems from a deeper sense of helplessness. Bumped on all sides, you feel restricted in movement and sense that your options to retreat are limited. It’s this perception of lack of control that induces the anxiety, and often makes ordinary events, such as walking a crowded city sidewalk, seem dangerous in a breathless, heart-stopping way.
If you’re living or working in the city, you may be able to map a better route from one point to another to avoid the more populated streets, or plan a series of retreats into local retailers, a municipal building, or other public space to give you time to breathe. City living is done at high speed, so whether you’re a visitor or a resident, be sure to take advantage of green spaces to grab an opportunity to decompress.
Know Your Surroundings
Big cities are, well, big. It can take years to really get to know all the neighborhoods and their culinary and cultural delights. The sheer size of the buildings, the distances necessary to travel, and the overwhelming amount of entertainment choices can be intimidating, especially if your living space consists of an 800 square foot studio apartment.
One way to reduce a sense of being overwhelmed is to expand your idea of home into the immediate neighborhood in which you live. Make a point to visit the local shops, trade banter with the shop owners, and try out nearby restaurants. Familiarity breeds comfort, which may help lessen anxiety over time.
Tinker With Transportation
Boarding a morning train in any major city can make anyone feel like a sardine in a can. It can be panic-attack disastrous for those who suffer from claustrophobia. Yet driving in a big city is no better, as frequent traffic lights, aggressive cabbies, heedless pedestrians, and determined cyclists make even the coolest drivers grip the steering wheel tight. In fact, the morning commute is one of the most stressful times of most people’s day. For big city dwellers, this can mean constant anxiety.
Consider your options. Can you shift your work schedule to avoid the worst of the rush hour crush? Are the local buses less crowded than the trains? Do you live close enough to walk or bike? Is it worth hailing a cab or a ride-share once or twice a week? Can you divide up the driving responsibilities by carpooling with others? If commuting anxiety is affecting your quality of life, it may even be worth considering a move closer to your work place.
It’s a fact that city living can affect the way your brain deals with stress. If you find yourself having difficulty coping, or experiencing rising levels of anxiety, never hesitate to discuss your situation with a mental health professional.