The chances are good you live in or near a big city. More than half of us already do, and that number is predicted to rise to nearly 70 percent within the next 40 years. So are you living in or near one of the 10 most stressful cities in America?
Whether you live in or close to Los Angeles (Forbes’ most stressful city in 2011 with 3.8 million residents) or Birmingham, Ala., (Portfolio.com’s ninth most stressful city in a 2010 poll at 212,000 residents) or nowhere near either one, there are very real mental health risks associated with living in urban areas compared to rural America.
It comes down to a distinct difference in brain structure between city dwellers and country folks. Researchers came to that conclusion after scanning the brains of 32 German students bombarded with negative feedback they heard via headphones while completing a series of math tests.
The Sounds of Failure
The social stress of hearing the “sounds of failure,” researchers say, activated different parts of the patients’ brains. Interestingly, two regions — the amygdala (emotion-processing) and cingulate cortex (negative-emotions generator) — were activated specifically or more strongly in the brains of patients living in the big city.
In fact, the relationship between those portions of the brain and geography was so distinct, scientists conducted a second experiment on 23 more patients, adding negative visuals to the mix just to be sure… The link between brain activation and geography remained the same in the second group.
Although migrating from the big city to Mayberry USA sounds appealing, today’s slow-growth economy makes moving away from bad roads, horrible traffic and even worse drivers highly impractical.
The 10 Most Stressful Cities
Apart from what lurks in our brains, and bad commuting habits, Portfolio.com identified other random but important qualities that make or break the mental health of city dwellers. Unfortunately, we have very little control over many of them, including unemployment, sunshine, housing costs and income growth.
Still, cities of course have many fantastic qualities, which is why people flock to them … though they can feel like they are filled with people who learned how to use a car at the Mr. Magoo Driving School and pay more attention to their mobile phones than the road.
Here are the 10 most stressful cities, based on Forbes’ latest list:
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- Washington, D.C.
- San Diego
- San Francisco