It’s pretty much a given that living in London comes with a hefty dose of stress. Oxford Circus at rush hour, the eye-watering cost of living, competitive and fast-paced workplaces – it can all cast a bit of a shadow over the London dream. But while the realities of city living are unlikely to change, (and are well worth enduring for those who love the vibrancy, culture and diversity of Britain’s capital) there are ways we can make sure they don’t have too much of an impact.
The importance of urban wellbeing
It’s not a particularly cheery subject for us Londoners, but it’s been observed that living in a city roughly doubles the risk of schizophrenia, while also raising the risk of experiencing an anxiety disorder by 21%. Whether it’s the noise, commotion, urban environment or a combination of hard-to-define factors, it seems that city life can add extra strain to our mental wellbeing and leave us that bit more vulnerable to psychological difficulties.
This being said, wherever we happen to live, around one in four people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime. It’s therefore extremely important to be as vigilant about our mental health as it is our physical health, making time for relaxation in a similar way as we make time to pop to the gym or cook healthy meals.
While London life might be generally a little more stressful than being in the countryside, where green space is a given and the pace considerably slower, that doesn’t mean you have to leave the city to lead a less pressured life. A deluge of news stories and “Why I Left London” opinion pieces have described a great exodus of people moving out of London for bigger houses and less stress, but the reality is that most Londoners are too deeply in love with their busy, urban home to consider moving.
So how can you find quiet and calm in one of the world’s leading cities? It turns out that there a plenty of options that can help any Londoner fight back against the hectic nature of city life.
First Off, Take Your Time
The easiest way to ease the stress of living in London doesn’t involve any expense, extra effort or even the need to jump on a bus. The likelihood is that over the years you have learnt to keep up with the pace of the city – groaning in annoyance when a tourist holds up a tube barrier for an extra 15 seconds, running for a train that will be followed by another in less than three minutes, stomping quickly along the streets like someone on a route march – it’s something that affects us all!
A small yet significant change in mindset is to stop trying to keep up all the time and allow yourself to set your own pace. Whether it’s taking your time over a coffee in a cafe, wandering on your way to work appreciating the surrounding architecture, or using your lunch break to meditate, there’s plenty of ways to live a little more slowly in London.
Make Your Home a Haven
Space is at a premium in London, to the extent that many people only have a rented bedroom to their name, and things like gardens and spare bedrooms draw looks of envy from everyone around. However, for the sake of your peace of mind, it’s a good idea to make wherever you call home a haven from the rest of the city – even if that home happens to be one room in a bustling house share.
At this time in London, there are more people renting properties than who own them and by 2025 the proportion of renters will have reached 60%. It can be hard for people renting their homes to truly make the space theirs and you may be in the situation where you don’t feel particularly relaxed in your living space. However, there are ways to tweak your surroundings to make them more appealing and – most importantly – calming.
- Keep your space clutter-free with regular clear-outs and storage boxes where you can hide letters, craft supplies, hair clips and other detritus.
- Try to make room for plants, which increase oxygen levels, clear out pollutants and add some soothing green loveliness to your living space.
- Make your bed a no-phone/laptop zone. If you are like the vast majority of people, you probably spend much of the day looking at a screen, so designating a space that you keep screen-free will help you keep a balance.
- Think about the things which calm you down and see if you can introduce them into your home. For example, there’s lots of small indoor water features you can buy if find fountains and running water relaxing, or if you are a big fan of the outdoors you can buy large print posters of your favourite wild scenery.
Seek Out Leafy & Quiet Spaces
Roughly 42% of London is green space, so you don’t have to jump on a train to experience the natural world. Mudchute Farm and Park, Highgate Cemetery and the London Wetland Centre are just a few of the many green places in London it’s worth exploring – and in cases such as the London Wetland Centre, the cost of your visit will contribute to important conservation work, allowing wildlife to thrive in the capital.
Cities may also be generally noisy, but there are also places that you can find silence within the hubbub. Churches are quiet and often empty places (even if you have no religious affiliation) where you can spend a little time relaxing, and the Quaker Meeting House runs secular Drop-in Silence sessions where you can come and go as you please, with nothing to do but take in the serenity. There’s also plenty of galleries, museums and book shops (like John Sandoe Books) which are very quiet outside of peak times.
Most Londoners find the vibrancy on their city exhilarating, thriving happily in the crowd. By taking the time to carve out some tranquility and calm in this busy atmosphere, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed and burnt out, and see the best in this most fascinating of cities for years to come.
This post was written by Holly Ashby, who is part of the team at the London meditation centre Will Williams Meditation. They teach Vedic meditation for anxiety, stress and sleep problems, aiming to help people cope with the stress of modern life.