Stressed in the city? Some studies show that urban dwellers have higher levels of stress than their suburban and rural counterparts do. But others say that living in a suburban or rural setting can be isolating- causing significant loneliness. So we all know what stress is right? It’s not so much a thing as it is a response to something. Some stressors are good, like exercise, a promotion at work, a new baby. But some stressors are negative and worse – unrelenting, like the job you hate, a bad relationship or money troubles. But it’s how we handle the stress that makes the difference. You see, some people are genetically wired to take on more stressful situations without having a lot of negative side effects. It’s called the Worrier vs. the Warrior genotype. But really we know that genetics paints only part of the picture and we can’t really change our genes anyway. But we can manage our stress better. Why should you care? Well, poorly managed stress causes our main stress hormone hormone cortisol to go through the roof causing everything from high blood pressure, weight gain, lowered immune function -therefore more illnesses, bone loss, heart disease and depression just for starters. Worse, after years of chronic stress, your adrenal glands which make cortisol can’t keep up with production, causing chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety, and problems with other hormones like testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
Philadelphia ranks in the top 10 most stressed out cities in the US, and along with the traffic on 76, the PPA , potholes or Philly sports teams fueling our stress, we don’t help things much. Many of us run along multitasking with our iPhones, eating sugar fueled food on the run, barely exercising, burning the candle at both ends and trying to get by on 6 hours a sleep at night.
Of course most people can’t just quit their jobs and fly off to live on an island in the Carribean. We have to learn how to adapt and buffer the stress that does come our way.
So what is a stressed out Philly dweller to do? Here are 7 things to de-tress and simplify our busy urban lives.
1) Get rid of stuff – This may sound silly but we are consummate consumers of things that we really don’t need. All this junk clutters our lives, making it hard to concentrate, stay organized and ends up making us less productive and feeling guilty. I love the blog Zen Habits by Leo Babauta which will have you clearing out your apartment and your mind in no time.
2) Bike or walk to work- Now this may be impossible if your work happens to be out in King of Prussia, but Philadelphia is one of the most bike friendly cities in the US. Recently installed bike lanes and the arrival of Philly bike share Indego will make it easier for people to bike to work, run errands and go to dinners with friends. You get to really appreciate the architecture and outdoor sculpture in the city while in the saddle. Not to mention it’s a great way to calm down after a rough day and get your exercise on.
3) Spend some time in nature- Philadelphia has an incredible amount of green space. Just with Fairmount park alone there are close to 10,000 acres of trails, woodlands and waterways. Take your bike up to MLK drive which closes to traffic on sundays starting the first weekend of April through October. Or go farther onto the schuylkill river trail out to Valley Forge, visit the Japanese teahouse in the Park or hike through the Wissahickon with your dog. Just get out there and breathe and put the stress behind you.
4) Get creative- Remember the last time you felt like you were relaxed, “in the zone” and time just fell away. You were probably doing something you really loved that used the creative part of your brain, such as painting, gardening, playing the guitar. So make some time for that in your life- even if it’s just a few times a week. In Philly there are so many options for adults. Take a glassblowing class, learn some carpentry or pottery- just have fun with it.
5) Get your OM on- The continued and ongoing research regarding the health benefits of meditation are myriad. Not only can you make yourself more stress resistant, it can hope you sleep better, think more clearly and improve many health outcomes. If you can’t bear the thought of doing it on your own, try out some of the local meditation studios here in Philly such as Shambala or Amitayus Kadampa Buddhist Center. Many yoga studios offer on going meditation classes as well.
6) Float away- Does floating in a huge tank of warm salty water for 90 minutes sound relaxing? Well many experts believe that floating in flotation tanks filled with Magnesium wish Epsom salts helps with problems involving the autonomic nervous system, such as insomnia, stress, dysfunctions of the skeleto-muscular system, and chronic headache to name a few. Devotees say this period of sensory deprivation completely relaxes them and enhances their creativity amongst other things. I am dying to try it at Halcyon Floats in Fishtown.
7) Take a personal day in your back-yard. Take a day to wander around the city and see those things you’ve always said you would. Hit up a museum like the Barnes or the Constitution Center, linger in a used bookstore, sit on a bench in Rittenhouse square. Finish off with a massage and eating al fresco. Just make it aimless, relaxing and fun.
Living in the city may provide many challenges that make us stressed, but if we take time to rest, relax and restore, we get the best of both worlds.