City Living and Mental Wellbeing

Ocean View helps wellbeing

Not a week seems to go by without another piece of research saying country folk have it better than city dwellers in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing.

There is no doubt that being nature has its benefits, and I can’t deny that we had the most wonderful fortnight in Cornwall this year, enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer (as evidenced in the photograph above).

But where does that leave us city-dwellers? Those of us who either have to live in a city for work or choose to because we like it here?

In reality the evidence is surprisingly scant and not as clear-cut as you might think.

Researchers at Exeter University recently revealed that a seemingly countless number of different factors determine how our surroundings influence us.

Mother Nurture

Of course we instinctively know that spending time in nature is generally good for us.

Apparently those who have sea views are even luckier: Residents who live by a vast expanse of water claim to feel less stressed than land-locked urbanites. Perhaps that explains why so many of us flock to the sea as soon as the sun makes an appearance.

But while I love green space – and indeed ocean views (who doesn’t?) – I also thrive on the culture, convenience and sheer vibrancy of life that the city in which I live (the amazing Bristol) has to offer.

City Living

It’s not all bad news for city dwellers. We tend to be more active – and therefore less obese – than our country cousins and are more socially engaged (perhaps through necessity) with one another. And we generally lead happier lives as seniors, living longer and with a reduced risk of suicide.

So how to get the best of both worlds? Living in the city but enjoying the benefits that Mother Nature has to offer?

Those who follow me on Instagram will know I like to post the occasional picture of clouds and sky. I’d post more if I thought I could get away with it.

Fresh Research

Not so long ago, new research confirmed that contact with nature is good for your mental health and wellbeing. No surprises there.

We all know that some fresh air can clear your head and give you a sense of wellbeing. Being outside in greenery is directly linked to reduced physical markers of stress – even just sitting beneath a tree can lower both our heart rate and blood pressure. Physiologically it can lower our cortisol levels and is known to reduce depression and anxiety.

Conducted by King’s College London this new research used a specially developed smartphone app called Urban Mind. It examined how the mental wellbeing of those who live and more specifically work in cities is affected by exposure to different elements of the natural world.

Results confirmed that people’s moods improved just by being outdoors, but the further news was that effects did not dissipate once subjects had returned to their desks. And after exposure to trees, sky and birdsong, the benefits were more long-lasting – sometimes for up to several hours.

Fatigue

Despite the many benefits of urban living, city dwellers are at higher risk of developing mental illness. Living and working in a city and having to constantly attend to traffic, technology and other stimuli on a daily basis can cause a sensory overload, resulting in a neurological state that researchers call “directed attention fatigue”. It’s distraction on another level altogether.

For office workers, getting outside at lunchtime and simply sitting in the park looking at trees and the sky and listening to birdsong connects into a more primal part of the brain and gives it a break from all the urban stimuli.

Daily Dose for Wellbeing

Getting your daily dose of nature doesn’t have to be difficult. You can:

  • Take a break at lunchtime to visit the local park;
  • Walk or cycle to work (and take the scenic route);
  • Sit outside on a patio or balcony during a screen break;
  • Grow something green outside, even if it’s just herbs in a window box;
  • Encourage birds with a window feeder, sit back and enjoy.

If all fails

Even a desk by the window for some natural light is beneficial, and a recent report found that office workers with just views of trees had lower stress levels than those who looked across a city.

It’s back to the yoga mat next week, I promise. But if you’ll excuse me right now I’m off to walk the dog. And I’ll take a look at the trees and the sky while I’m at it.

Take a break. All you need to do is look up.

Are you a country mouse or a town mouse? If the latter, how do you choose to get your daily dose of Mother Nature?

Signed by: Monika.

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  1. Lenie on 15 January 2018 at 11:10 am

    Monika, I know this is so true. When I was working – in a high-stress job – I would occasionally take the time to go sit by the river, which was really right outside my office door. Just a few minutes there would help me unwind and enable me to carry on. Since I retired I have taken up gardening, especially herbs and I can’t tell you how beneficial that has been.

    • Monika Maurer on 15 January 2018 at 11:15 am

      How interesting Lenie – the research said that exposure to water didn’t have any long-lasting wellbeing benefits, but I agree with you. I grew up by a river and I always find being by water (any kind) soothing. Perhaps it is the surrounding green that has the effect. Either way, if it works don’t change it! I too used to enjoy gardening but now I have children I find it another thing on the “to do” list. I look forward to having the time to enjoy it again at some point. Lucky you!

  2. Catarina on 15 January 2018 at 3:15 pm

    It’s so true that nature has a wonderful impact on human beings. Even if you are on a train looking out the window. That happens to me when I go to university and look at the nature outside the train.

    • Monika Maurer on 15 January 2018 at 6:12 pm

      I agree Catarina, and what a way to spend what could be a stressful commute – by recharging those batteries with a bit of greenery!

  3. Phoenicia on 15 January 2018 at 6:46 pm

    I am an outdoors person and struggle in the winter months. In spring and summer I enjoy being in the outdoors preferably in a pretty park as oppose to just walking along the street. I daydream of taking hikes and going on nature trails but rarely do due to lack of free time and the fact I have small children who would prefer participating in other activities.

    As the temperature dropped I stopped going for walks during my lunch break. It benefited me walking in the crisp air and I need to encourage myself to restart this.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

    • Monika Maurer on 15 January 2018 at 8:26 pm

      I completely empathise Phoenicia. We all know we feel better when we get out and I too struggle in winter, particularly January (the UK is particularly bleak at this time of year I feel). Having written this piece though I have been so much more aware of the skies at this time and they really are beautiful. Look up and see if they give you a boost. Co-incidentally, I too have children who are generally not keen on nature walks but we borrowed a friend’s dog as an excuse to get us all out and I was surprised how much the boys loved it. It’s good for everyone to get out in nature.

  4. Marquita Herald on 15 January 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Great advice. I live in a forest in Oregon now, but I was raised in Los Angeles so I completely understand the city dweller stress issue. My last job before we escaped was near Compton, CA and for safety reasons, we weren’t allowed outside the building during the day had to be escorted to our cars when we left work at night. From there we moved to Maui – talk about culture shock!

    • Monika Maurer on 15 January 2018 at 8:29 pm

      Wow Marquita, it sounds as if you made a good move. I haven’t been to Oregon, but I did spend a few days in LA this summer, which I found almost overwhelmingly urban. And I have been to Maui (about 20 years ago) WHICH I LOVED! You certainly have lived in some interesting places – I hope you are happy now in Oregon?! I would love to live in a forest, but we are lucky enough to have woods near to where I live (in the city) where I escape to as often as I can…

  5. Doreen Pendgracs on 15 January 2018 at 11:42 pm

    I am VERY fortunate to be a country dweller. So my connection to and appreciation of Mother Nature and her nurturing effect is ongoing and ever-present.

    • Monika Maurer on 16 January 2018 at 12:04 pm

      I envy you Doreen. Although I do love all that living in the city has to offer, I also would love to live in the countryside. Lucky you. Praise be to Mother Nature!

  6. William Rusho on 18 January 2018 at 6:11 pm

    To saw I grew up in a rural setting would be an understatement. I learned how to trap and hunt, my freezer was full of venison for the winter.
    I work and live in a city during the week, but head home on the weekends. I can tell you when I get home, open up the car doors, and see nature around me, it recharges me. You need time just to leave the city and get back to what we originally were, a part of nature.

    • Monika Maurer on 18 January 2018 at 8:02 pm

      I couldn’t agree more William! Nature is fundamental to our being; it recharges and grounds us. For city dwellers it’s so important to that “fix”. What a great upbringing you must have had and how lucky you are to still be able to access it. Thanks for your comment!

  7. RoseMary Griffith on 19 January 2018 at 6:58 pm

    These posts are as important as the yoga ones! Love the photo. Since I just came in from breaking up ice on the driveway and side in the first sun we have seen in at least a week, I couldn’t agree more with how good it made me feel. Fifteen minutes was all it took!

    Now, to get my butt back out for a walk. Ah, but so much work to get done yet today.

    • Monika Maurer on 21 January 2018 at 8:51 pm

      Hi Rose Mary – I guess you probably got a fair amount of exercise (and certainly your fix of fresh air and sky!) while breaking up the ice. Not that I should be discouraging ANYONE to go for a walk… Glad you like these posts; I like them too. Not everyone is into yoga (although it is my mission to make everyone aware of the benefits it can bring) but I do hope that there is something on my blog that everyone might find of interest. Thanks for the comment!

  8. RoseMary Griffith on 7 September 2018 at 4:01 pm

    I am so happy to share this post across social media. I love being outdoors and absolutely know when it has been too long since I spent an extended time there. In fact, I realized last night that summer is officially over and I have not hiked since Wales in June! Walks, sure, but days spent hiking, no. What a bummer on many levels.

    Cornwall is so on my list!

    • Monika Maurer on 8 September 2018 at 4:15 pm

      I know, summer is officially over, but that’s only the meteorological one. Astronomical autumn (fall) doesn’t start until after the equinox on Sept 22 so we still have a couple of weeks of summer left – yay! Although having said that, autumn is one of my favourite seasons to walk/hike in.
      And yes, Cornwall is a must. Different to Pembrokeshire, but still lovely.

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