For many of us, modern life can be a pretty stressful experience. The ‘hustle and bustle’ of 21st century living has only seemed to intensify in recent years, and as we go about our daily routines, a lot of people have come to terms with stress as part and parcel of life. This is particularly true for those of us living in the sprawling urban jungles of today’s modern cities.
They can be incredible places to call home, but the fast-paced and relentless intensity of city living leaves may of us feeling burned out on a regular basis. But there could be a solution. Research has shown that for those of us dealing with the stress-inducing day-to-day experiences that come with living in a busy city such as London, meditation could be the key to unlocking a calmer, more balanced you. But why is this the case, and how can you make meditation a part of your own hectic schedule?
What makes the city life stressful?
Modern cities are remarkable places. They’re hubs of culture, art, humanity and business, and they’re the beating architectural heart of our modern western society. There are 61 cities in the UK alone, and while some are smaller and quieter than others, those of us living in London or any of the other giant metropolises in the UK know how stressful city life can be. But why exactly is this the case? Surely living in proximity to countless conveniences and endless opportunities for social interaction would lead to a fulfilled lifestyle?
While this might be the case for many Londoners and other city-dwellers, living in the concrete jungle isn’t always an enriching experience. Stress is a bodily response to external stimuli, and there are few places that assault our senses – both physically and psychologically – more than the city.
One of the biggest causes of mental stress is the concerns we have over things like money, job security, and our other responsibilities. Living in a city doesn’t exactly put the mind at ease when it comes to these issues, and in fact the pressure exerted by things like expensive rent and fierce competition for work can set us constantly on edge.
Having to carefully consider every penny you spend on leisure activities just so you can afford the roof over your head, while also having to tackle a lengthy and tiring commute day in day out, while providing for family or other dependants, can all take a toll on our mind and body. Even simply walking or shopping in a city can be exhausting, with overcrowding a common problem.
Similarly, the nature of the way most city-dwellers experience life daily can be inherently stressful. Imagine the average workday for someone living and working in London. Assuming she’s not on a particularly high salary, or in a particularly inspiring job, her day could go something like this:
After being woken by a loud alarm, and quickly drinking a cup of coffee (a stimulant associated with increased stress), she dashes for the bus, which she only just manages to catch. She arrives at the underground tube station, but misses the first train, meaning she’ll be late for work. After arriving at her job, already strung out, she must focus and work hard for the whole day, only to make the long commute home again.
After being jostled and squashed on the overcrowded train back, and arriving home with only a couple of hours before bed, she makes dinner, catches up on a tv show, and goes to sleep exhausted. Without even filling in the gaps, it’s easy to see the number of stressful situations we can encounter daily.
It’s clear that city life isn’t geared towards tranquillity. But it isn’t all bad; cities are wonderful places to live, and can give us access to the best opportunities and experiences that can be found anywhere. The key to managing the stresses of city life is to meet them head on, and meditation could be answer.
How can meditation help?
The key reason meditation can be so helpful for those of us living in cities is that it can fit into our lives seamlessly and without causing much – if any – disruption. As a practice, meditation has existed for thousands of years, long before we constructed the urban environments we inhabit today, and there is plenty of evidence that meditation can change our lives for the better.
One of the most effective and important things meditation does is slow our brains down. This might not sound like a good thing at first, but decreasing the amount of processing your brain has to undergo – particularly if you live in a fast-paced city in which your brain has to process an awful lot very often – gives your frontal lobe (the bit that deals with emotions, self-awareness, and other things negatively impacted by stress) a chance to recuperate.
Giving your brain this much needed, but sadly for many of us rarely achieved, chance to pause, rest, and recover can have profound impacts on both your physical and psychological wellbeing. Studies have shown that regular meditation over a prolonged period of weeks can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even pain. It’s even been observed that this practice can physically ‘reconfigure’ our brains for the better. (Yeah science!).
The case is clear that for city dwellers, meditation could be a particularly profound way to reduce the impact of stress, but how do you actually go about getting started on your path to becoming a zen master?
How to make meditation part of your life
The key to successful meditation is dedication, and regular practice which, ironically, already makes it sound at odds with the relentlessness of city life. But in the same way that finding the time for exercise can (and should) be achieved, it’s surprisingly easy to make meditation a part of your life.
The big question is where to begin. If you don’t have any experience in meditating, you’ll probably need a helping hand as you start out, but luckily there are all kinds of options available. You can get advice from online videos or apps, or by reading a meditation book, but if you live in a city, you’re also likely to be in proximity to many options you might not even know exist.
Many cities in the UK are home to meditation experts, courses, and guides, who you can turn to for beginner advice. If you’re looking for meditation in London, for example, you could join a course or class taught by an expert, to learn the basics – or attend a regular group session during which you could also make new friends. Do a little digging, and see what options are available to you.
You don’t need to be put off by the notion of commitment, too. One of the best things about meditation is how versatile it is, with some techniques, such as the increasingly popular Vedic meditation, not even requiring solitude and quiet to practice. Aim to find a technique that will work for your own schedule – you could try mindfulness meditation, for example, for 10 minutes each morning or evening.
It’s true that unfortunately, there isn’t one simple cure to the stressful experience that modern life can be. For those of us living in the city, it can be even harder to reconnect with our inner self, and deal with mounting stress, when it’s inherently caused by our day to day routines. This doesn’t mean, though, that we’re powerless.
Meditation, in London, Manchester, Birmingham, and other cities in the UK, is becoming hugely popular for good reason. It’s a simple but highly effective way to start chipping away at the negative, and rebuilding the positive. It can help calm us down, and pick us up, and it’s one of the most accessible and powerful strategies to combating stress. Feeling the pressure? Give it a try.