MOSCOW: Stress and the City
A city or a village? The majority of people in the world definitely prefer living in a city. According to some assessments, two thirds of the planet’s population will be living in cities by 2050. Because of this, humanity will go through radical social and environmental changes. After all, life in a city means everyday stress that is difficult to manage.
It’s been proven that people who live outside the city are less prone to stress. Even those who were born in rural areas and moved to the city later in life have stronger immune systems. Conversely, someone who spent their childhood in a big city will be more sensitive to stress later in life, and will have a harder time coping with it.
It’s no wonder that discussions at the Moscow Urban Forum, which took place in the beginning of July, focused on addressing health issues that people living in big cities experience. A special congress called Urban Health was held for the first time in the corum’s history. Here are a few topics of discussion brought up by experts from different countries: “How can megacities cope with the diseases of the 21st century?”, “Hygiene regulations. Are the epidemics still on the urban agenda?”, “Pollution factors. Practices reducing environmental risks”, “Age-friendly city. How do we prolong a healthy age?”, “Food deserts. Urban food policy”…
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that stress is one of the most pressing problems for people who live in cities. “Yes, cities offer people more opportunities in various spheres, but at the same time cities are major sources of stress. Cities really do drive us crazy, have a negative impact on our lifestyles, our mental health, and our physical health. These aren’t just empty words, it’s a medical fact,” said Mazda Adli, one of Germany’s leading stress researchers, specialist training in psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Freie Universität Berlin.
So what causes stress?
Just about everything. There are a ton of reasons. It’s the constant noise, the forever crowded public transport, eternal traffic jams, the congestion even on the streets, because everything is full of people! Even when a city resident is at home, it’s not always possible to calm down and relax – even the neighbors can be loud on occasion. And when you finally do fall asleep, you may be woken up by the sound of cars zooming by your window. After a bad night’s sleep, what kind of mood are you going to be in once you get to work? All of this happens nearly every day.
How can we fight stress?
There are two options. The first is to create a comfortable city environment. In other words, to erect residential housing in a way that is sensible and aesthetically appealing, to build kindergartens, schools, and places of leisure nearby, to create parks and squares, plant trees, shrubs, and flowers. This, of course, is a task for city authorities. Incidentally, Mazda Adli was very surprised at how green and pleasant the city is when he visited Moscow for the first time: “I didn’t expect this. It turns out a lot of trees have been planted here in the past several years, and I think this was a good initiative. Because green spaces help people cope with stress and anxiety. You can have a great time in parks and squares.” The official numbers back up the German psychiatrist’s claims. Moscow is currently in first place in terms of green space, which accounts for 50 percent of the city’s total area. For comparison’s sake, the numbers are 26% for London, 22% for Paris, and about 4% for Beijing.
Overall, a lot of speakers at the forum talked about quality of life improvements for the city’s residents, not just in terms of improvements made to city spaces, but also in terms of new developments in healthcare – the city is renovating hospitals, the number of doctors is growing, and the digitalization of the city’s healthcare system continues. According to official numbers, the average life expectancy in Moscow is 77.9 years – that’s 3.8 years longer than in 2010.
The second option is an individual approach. One person may be hitting the gym to fight stress, while someone else goes to the theatre, museums, and exhibitions. For others, meditation is the best option, or a cup of coffee with cake. There is no single stress reduction recipe that works equally well for everyone. Researchers have been trying to figure out how to minimize the negative impact of big cities on people’s health for a very long time. According to Mazda Adli, everything depends on the specific person – their preferences, values, and personality. As for himself, Dr. Adli has a secret weapon when it comes to coping with stress – he loves singing. Curiously, he not only happily announced this at the Moscow Urban Forum, but also showed the guests how it’s done. At the end of his presentation, Mazda invited musicians on stage, asked everybody in the audience to stand up, and boldly sang a famous song by the German band “Scorpions”:
“I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change…”