In 2002, Kristen and I considered a position at a lovely church in rural Nebraska. The nearest large city was Lincoln some two hours away. The town was quaint and cute as a postcard. But as we dug into the realities of moving somewhere with one coffee shop, a small grocery store, a gas station, and three farm implement dealers we realized that we really couldn’t see ourselves living 45 minutes from the nearest town with a supermarket. (Or hospital, mall, or even Applebee’s.)
We loved the idea of a ministering in a simple, farm town. And we adored the church and their vision for the community. (Nearly half the town attended their church each Sunday morning!) But, ultimately we are wired as city folks. We were used to riding the cramped train to work. And, in Chicago, we were never more than a few blocks from the nearest Starbucks. Even in our 5 years of living in Detroit’s northern suburbs we found ourselves constantly annoyed by the monoculture of suburbia. The quiet and wide open space and all of that stuff kind of raises my stress level a bit. When it’s that quiet and wide open I find myself humming the Dueling Banjos from Deliverance.
I feel alive and free in an urban setting while visiting or living in a more rural place raises my anxiety level. (Folks from Romeo will remember that we chose to live in the village and not out in the more rural areas of town.)
I always thought this was just my personal preference. But, it turns out that city people and rural people really are different neurologically. A recent article in Time Magazine shared some insights from recent research on the differences between rural and cities people’s brains.
In an international study, researchers at University of Heidelberg and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University report in the journal Nature that people who live or were raised in cities show distinct differences in activity in certain brain regions than those who aren’t city dwellers.
Those who currently live in the city, for example, showed higher activation the amygdala, the brain region that regulates emotions such as anxiety and fear. The amygdala is most often called into action under situations of stress or threat, and the data suggest that city dwellers’ brains have a more sensitive, hair-trigger response to such situations, at least when compared with those living in the suburbs or more rural areas. Read more
All of this is kind of locked in during the first 15 years of life. Your developing brain is either used to the stimulation of the city or in suburban/rural settings and that becomes comfortable with one or the other.
As the article goes on to point out– there are positives and negatives to either. City people tend to be more anxious over their lifetime than rural people. And people raised in the country are less likely to ever fully feel at ease living in the city.
Why does this matter?
Understanding yourself is often half the battle to managing life stress. As the article concludes, “So what does this mean for avid city livers like me? I’m not giving up my urban lifestyle, but I may have to balance the high-energy hum of city activity with more downtime. “In general when it comes to stress, it’s important to keep a balance,” says Pruessner. “These results suggest the need to keep things in balance so after a period of working hard, you balance that with a period of off-time as well.”