I'm Deborah, survivor of everything from multiple cancer battles to major business setbacks. Join my search for ways to move the mountains, big & small, that block your path to success.

Sick of your surroundings?

Downtown San Francisco, CA

As a child, did you ever read Aesop’s fable of the city mouse and the country mouse? After a visit to his cousin showed him the sparseness of country living, the city mouse reciprocated the invitation, and the country mouse ventured to the city. The country mouse was impressed by the splendid feasts available in the city’s huge garbage dumps … but he didn’t appreciate having to dodge so many cats and other dangers trying to get at them. The moral of the story: “A modest life with peace and quiet is better than a rich one with danger and strife.”

Apparently the Greek writer, who’s believed to have lived sometime in the 3rd to 5th century B.C., was wise beyond his time. By using functional brain imaging, researchers from the University of Heidelberg have been able to demonstrate that the brains of city and country dwellers respond differently to social stress. And that probably explains why people reared in cities are more prone to developing mental disorders.

Yes, it’s long been established as a scientific reality: Living in the city can drive you nuts.

For decades, scientists have known schizophrenia is twice as common among those born and raised in the city–yet genetics accounts for only 20 percent of the risk. According to the study findings recently published in the journal Nature, the German researchers wanted to determine whether the social stresses of city living could be the difference.

Brain overload


The researchers put test subjects to work solving arithmetic problems, then began hurrying and mocking them through headphones and used scans to study how those additional stressors affected their brains. The amygdala—a portion of the brain that processes emotion—was activated only in urban dwellers. And the cingulate cortex—which helps regulate and process negative emotions—responded more forcefully in those with urban histories than in those who grew up in towns or rural areas.

The results were so conclusive the researchers were afraid others would question the findings, so they repeated the study and achieved the same outcome. They plan to expand their studies to determine whether other risk factors, such as support networks or perceived discrimination, have any impact on the way subjects process stress.

So for city dwellers is the moral of the research findings that you should move? Not necessarily. But they definitely suggest you should find opportunities to step out of the rate race and enjoy your simple pleasures.


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