Stress. It’s one of those human experiences that gets worse the more you think about it. Stressing about stress brings more stress. Yet, we all do it. We can’t help ourselves. And in 2020, most of us were locked in our homes with nothing to do but feel our stress levels climb and stress about not being able to stress less. In 2021, people are turning it all around. It’s time to dial stress down a notch, and get healthier. But there are definitely places where that’s easier to do than others. So what cities across the world are the best for stress, and which are the worst for stress? CELEB took a look. 

The Worst Cities for Stress

Mumbai, India

Wellness company VAAY has compiled a list of cities that are the best for stress and the worst for stress, and ranked them in order. The study comes from the University of Oxford and attempts to clearly draw a connection between the way governments provide for citizens and the stress level of those people. Some of those that are worst for stress make sense at first glance, and others may be surprising. 

These are the bottom cities in the study from numbers 90 to 100 (bad to worse, with the last city being the absolute worst for stress of its citizens):

  • 90. Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 91. Kiev, Ukraine.
  • 92. Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • 93. Karachi, Pakistan.
  • 94. Moscow, Russia. 
  • 95. Kabul, Afghanistan.
  • 96. Baghdad, Iraq.
  • 97. New Delhi, India.
  • 98. Manila, Philippines.
  • 99. Lagos, Nigeria.

And the worst city for stress in this study:

  • 100. Mumbai, India. 

Do any of those surprise you? Most of the cities listed here at the bottom of the stress favorability metric are places where poverty and inequality is high, and/or they are now or have been recently embroiled in war. In Manila, Philippines, tourists often rub elbows with people who live at a high poverty rate. Many of these cities also boast high populations, which come with a variety of logistics problems such as sanitation, employment, and disease control. Nearly all of the cities in the bottom ten had low COVID stress scores, meaning the response of the local government wasn’t high enough to mitigate the impact COVID had on people living in these cities.

The Best Cities for Stress

Reykjavik, Iceland

But when we talk about the worst cities for stress, we also have to examine the best cities. So if you’re looking to bring it down a notch and get some zen in your life, where are the best cities?

Here are the top ten cities for stress, ranked from 10 to 1, with 1 being the absolute best.

  • 10. Graz, Austria.
  • 9. Hanover, Germany.
  • 8. Innsbruck, Austria.
  • 7, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • 6. Oslo, Norway.
  • 5. Melbourne, Australia.
  • 4. Wellington, New Zealand.
  • 3. Helsinki, Finland.
  • 2. Bern, Switzerland.

And the best city for stress?

  • 1. Reykjavik, Iceland.

There is a discernible pattern here. Most of the cities in the top ten are European or Nordic countries, where taxes are generally higher but citizens receive a higher level of care from the government. In these cities, there’s a lower incidence of poverty in general, and citizens have better access to healthcare. Unlike the cities in the bottom ten, all of these cities are at least decades removed from their most recent war or armed conflict, giving their citizens a measure of security and stability that citizens in the bottom ten don’t enjoy.

How These Metrics Were Determined

When we think of de-stressing, most of us think of a warm, sandy beach, a cocktail, and no responsibilities for a few days. But the VAAY chart puts those thoughts to rest. None of the cities listed in the top then would be considered warm, particularly beachy, or lacking in high-stress situations. They’re all highly-integrated, technologically advanced, and fast-past cities. 

Some of those in the bottom ten actually do boast beaches and a slower lifestyle; fewer responsibilities compared to modern life, and a more cohesive general philosophy among locals.

So why are some cities failing to mitigate the stress of their citizens, and others are doing so well?

The study looked at the following metrics:

  • Governance. This includes safety and security (environment, crime, modern infrastructure, domestic stability, traffic fatalities, natural disasters, and includes public opinion data on how safe citizens feel), socio-political score (political stability and freedom from terrorism, how involved citizens feel in their own governance, regulatory quality, how confident citizens are in the fairness and application of laws, and control of corruption), and gender and minority equality which gauges whether or not women and minorities have the same access to opportunity and representation in governance.
  • City. This includes population density, traffic congestion, weather, air pollution, along with noise and light pollution.
  • Finance. This includes the unemployment rate, financial stress (what percentage of people have disposable income and how equitable the income gap is between rural and urban citizens), social security (the structures available to support retired individuals).
  • Citizens’ Health.  This includes mental health (a measurement of people diagnosed with depressive disorders as well as how those disorders affect the life expectancy of the population), access to healthcare (information on a city’s healthcare system using data on access, quality and satisfaction, as a score), and COVID response stress score (which assesses each government’s response to COVID, including how much was invested in healthcare, support for the local economy, and how much social liberty was safely maintained during the pandemic. COVID case rates and deaths per capita were also factored into this metric). 

Using all of these factors, it’s clear to see that cities with higher inequality for women and minorities, those with less comprehensive healthcare systems, and those with higher poverty rates are more stressful for those citizens.

While all of that may seem obvious, the study is vital because it shows a direct correlation between the overall betterment of health (and lowering of stress levels) when measured against decisions city governments make for their citizens. The study hopes to draw attention to the factors that lower wellness and increase stress, and encourage politicians to begin considering legislation that mimics the success of the top cities. 

Politicians want nothing if not votes. So if they can be convinced that people want more happiness and less stress, and these are the things city, state, and federal governments need to do to provide those for voters – they just may be inspired to make changes. For those interested, Houston, TX was listed at number 25, Seattle and Chicago were listed at 39 and 40 respectively, Boston and Miami came in at 43 and 44, Los Angeles and Washington came in at 45 and 47, San Francisco came in at 64, and New York City at 75. That means most of our cities included in the study rate from Fair to Poor, something American politicians should take note of.