Massage therapists who practice in urban areas probably see clients who are more stressed out than do their less-urban peers, as an international study shows being born and raised in a major urban area is associated with greater lifetime risk for anxiety and mood disorders.

Until now, the biology for these associations had not been described. The international study, which involved Douglas Mental Health University Institute researcher Jens Pruessner, is the first to show that two distinct brain regions that regulate emotion and stress are affected by city living, according to a press release from the institute.

“Previous findings have shown that the risk for anxiety disorders is 21 percent higher for people from the city, who also have a 39 percent increase for mood disorders,” says Pruessner.

Researchers looked at the brain activity of healthy volunteers from urban and rural areas. In a series of functional magnetic resonance experiments involving the Montreal Imaging Stress Task protocol, they showed that city living was associated with greater stress responses in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved with emotional regulation and mood. Urban upbringing was found to be associated with activity in the cingulate cortex, a region involved in regulation of negative affect and stress.

The study’s findings were published in Nature.

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