The London stress test

There is a particular kind of ‘London Stress’. Background white noise, which builds to silently flip its lid.

…And then you’re f-bombing people as you force onto a tube, or freaking out with Google maps in Soho, lost and late, or questioning the meaning of life after working until midnight, your taxi driver stoically ignoring your tears.

Picture of a tube carriage whizzing by

Attributation – Old Street London Underground Station by Annie Mole

Londoners don’t necessarily have more stress than people elsewhere, and we certainly have it better than many. Stress is prevalent even the smallest, most scenic locations, just listen to The Archers.

But London stress – which exists within the bubble of this city – is specific to life here. It can burn you out, makes you lose perspective, even lose yourself.

Why is London so stressful? The relentless pace, the competition, maddening crowds, the aggressive transport system, the stretched housing, the pressure of companies demanding that extra inch of excellence, of growth. Technology that keeps us wired up to global expectations 24-7, set against the fact that we all arrive here, fresh young things, thrilled by the prospect of a phone conversation with NYC at midnight to make us feel like we belong.

I always remember talking with two strangers on a train to Manchester, the summer before I moved to London, about (mostly their) concerns for me in London. One said: ‘Just remember, you don’t have to become like everyone else’.

But I did. I became one of the worst.

I’m not alone. Palpitations, eye-twitches, migraines, tears at work, and more serious stress aggravated chronic conditions and anxiety are worryingly common just among the people I know, if you lift the lid a little.

What can we do about it? I haven’t got much of a clue, or I wouldn’t be experiencing a tightening neck-vein at the mere head-on confrontation of the issue. But something must be done.

Some meditate. Others medicate. A lot swear by running. I’ve heard great things about Mindfulness. Dale Carneige’s ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ has helped a friend of mine, while another swears by Andrew Johnson’s relaxation recordings. The School of Life is a fabulous urban retreat that I love. We all know massage can help.

Burning rose oil apparently instills a sense of calm, yoga is amazing, as is chamomile tea and Classic FM at the end of a long day. A walk in the park can help you ‘get away’ when a holiday isn’t an option.

Me? I try some of these things. I mostly talk to friends and drink wine. I also write this blog.

I wonder if these small management strategies are a sustainable answer though, I wonder how much rose oil can actually make a difference.

When I first moved to London it all felt so temporary, I looked at the old-timers and wondered how they hacked it. A work colleague told me that the answer is to find the London you can manage, to create it for yourself – job, house, lifestyle. Apparently its possible. Maybe that’s our answer.


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