An issue that presented itself year after year while I worked in London was in regards to my living arrangements. Since I travelled solo to work on the other side of the globe, away from any family, relatives or friends, I had all the freedom in the world to choose where I wanted to live, and who with.
The decision of where I should base myself didn’t seem all that important, as long as the commute to work wasn’t too long and the asking rent was less than an arm and a leg. However, after moving eight times in as many years, I came to realise a particular failing on my part which had led to my rather nomadic existence.
What I failed to recognise was this: where you live matters, and it matters a lot.
It deserves much more attention than one simply picking a location on the basis of proximity to work.
The impact of city living on your mental health
As an ambitious and career driven twenty-something year old city dweller, it never occurred to me back then to question whether living in busy urban areas of London had any impact on my wellbeing. I just wanted to live close to work to cut down travelling time and save on costs.
I was unaware for example, that previous UK government research had found people living in cities had an increased chance of anxiety and mood disorders, as well as higher incidents of schizophrenia.
The results from a new German study appear to support these claims, as scientists found that regions of the brain which regulate emotion and anxiety become overactive in city-dwellers when they are stressed. Key findings have been reported in Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science.
On the pros and cons of urban living, researchers of this study said that although people living in the city are "wealthier and receive improved sanitation, nutrition, contraception and healthcare", they are also exposed to an "increased risk for chronic disorders, a more demanding and stressful social environment and greater social disparities."
ONS says higher income and better housing may not offset commuting pain
Does this mean we should all live further out and endure long commutes?
According to a recent report on commuting and personal wellbeing compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK, the answer is clearly in the negative.
Commuters are reported to suffer from lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their activities are worthwhile, are less happy and more anxious than non-commuters. The worst effects on personal wellbeing have been associated with journey times between 60 and 90 minutes.
Although it must be said that overall differences (between commuters and non-commuters) are relatively small, what is significant is the interpretation of these results by the ONS. It says that “other factors such as higher income or better housing may not fully compensate the individual commuter for the negative effects associated with travelling to work and that people may be making sub-optimal choices.”
Where you live impacts on your behaviour
An interesting point for those who live in less desirable locations due to work reasons is that where you live can impact on how you spend your spare time. This may be a good or bad thing, depending on what facilities are around you.
An Australian study on gambling behaviour for example, has found that the closer you live to pokie venues, the more likely you are to gamble, which unsurprisingly increases your chance of developing gambling problems. Over 7,000 respondents participated in this research.
Their conclusion is perhaps intuitive, but what is important is that this is one of the few studies that have tested directly the relationship between problem gambling and residential proximity to gambling venues.
Clearly, this doesn’t mean you or I should cross out potential living locations simply because there are betting facilities nearby; however, it does provide some food for thought, regarding how amenities and services available in our local area can influence our habits and behaviour.
What does it all mean?
My decision of where to live was always based around work. However, it became clear after so many moves that focusing on this single factor made a poor start to achieving good work-life balance. Neglecting personal preferences, local amenities and other practicalities meant that I was always looking for something better, and this resulted in annual moves that wasted a lot of money, time as well as energy.
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