I find the gradual transition I have been through in the past few years, from city life, to small town and rural living, fascinating. I did not know until I researched it, that the entire world is moving from rural to urban quickly.
According to a 2011 report from LSE Cities and the Deutsche Bank called Urban Stress and Mental Health:
“Urban living is on the rise whereas rural living is becoming the exception – in all parts of the world and at an ever-increasing rate. The rapid pace of urbanization is an important marker of the societal transition at large that has occurred over the past 30 years. Our world is shifting towards an urban, small-family or single household, and at the same time, an aging society. In the next 30 years we will be faced with the growing challenges specific to our cities’ aged single urban populations.
However, urban living is not only about getting older, it is also about being in a constant state of stress. Stress is the unspecific physiological and psychological reaction to perceived threats to our physical, psychological or social integrity. Urban living can be threatening if you haven’t enough space of your own, if you experience insufficient security or live under unstable economic conditions. Stress increases with the anticipation of adverse situations and the fear of not having the adequate resources to respond to them. From an evolutionary point of view, stress is the mechanism that prepares us for any ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction, and also causes us to evolve in order to better adapt to our environment. Although not harmful per se, stress may jeopardize our health when stress exposure is chronic or when complete recovery is not possible.”
In our first year of living in a town of under 3,000, my stress level fell precipitously. It felt amazing at times. With only two stoplights in the whole county(!) and almost no traffic, I found nobody in Walsenburg CO to be in a rush, unless of course they were tourists. There were never parking problems or lines anywhere. But since my natural stress level was geared to noise, traffic, aggressive behavior and threats from strangers everywhere, it took me a while to adjust. I had to tell myself to mellow out constantly.
In our second year here we moved out to the country on a few acres and began living in a quiet, clean, peaceful, naturally beautiful setting, but my body was still geared to a higher level of alertness and anxiety than my surroundings warranted. It took time to relax by practicing meditation, yoga, and simply sitting quietly more.
I needed to learn again that my emotions were tied to my heart. When my world felt like a threatening place, even unconsciously, I was daily putting my heart at risk. Health practitioners worldwide now see stress as a major risk to cardiovascular health. Cortisol and epinephrine are two hormones that, along with others, raise blood pressure and blood sugars in the body, threatening the heart. Another reason stressed-out people are vulnerable to heart disease is that they rarely eat well, sleep well, and exercise.
In short, I cannot believe how much my life has changed since leaving city life behind. I did not know the level of stress I was living with everyday until it was gone. And even then it took me quite a while to truly relax and enjoy the lack of stress in my life.