London is a place that polarizes opinion. William Dunbar, the 15th century Scottish bard, was brimming with praise for the city: ‘London thou art the flower of all cities! Gemme of all joy, jasper of jocunditie’. He obviously had blast when he popped down from St. Andrews. Grime artist Kano, a slightly more contemporary, but no less respectable poet, offers a more cautionary evaluation: ‘London, London, London Town/ You can toughen up or get thrown around.’ London is the kind of place that whips you into a perpetually oscillating frenzy of excitement and alienation. I bet even Dunbar was a bit less gushing after a few days in the capital. Whatever you think of it, it’s certainly somewhere that seems to stress people out. If you’re a Londoner you can probably reel off countless examples of city-induced cortisol overload. Practical Depression particularly hates the speed that the Northern Line travels through Mornington Crescent. That’s really annoying. It seems as if the city has had the ability to cause problems for people since time immemorial. The Thames once got so smelly that all the MPs had to abandon Parliament (and that was after trying to mask the smell of the river with big wee-soaked curtains). That was definitely stressful, and that was in the olden days when stress wasn’t supposed to exist.
Whether it is the unfeasibly large crowds at Oxford Circus, the reliability of Southern Rail, or the fact that or the fact that all restaurants, coffee, clothes, and barbers shops look suspiciously alike in East London, the city will find its own, deeply personalised, way to raise your blood pressure. The obvious, and highly evolutionary answer, is to take flight, to move somewhere else. As with all easy answers, however, this one is inherently flawed. For all the hideously crap bits of London life the city retains a kind of mystical, mildly transcendental lure. Plus, if you have lived in the city for long enough then the thought of waiting more than 3 minutes for a bus, or the mere possibility of somewhere with a lower per-square-mile-density of Pret a Manger, seems like an outrage. London, like all dangerously alluring things, has inveigled the unsuspecting and the wide-eyed and has them trapped!
Practical Depression suggests that we should be more realistic. You live, work, and (probably, secretly) like the place. Don’t spend all your time fantasising about a hut on the Yorkshire Moors. You are not Ray Mears, and you’re definitely not Bear Grylls. The average Londoner is a mortal, and mortals, unlike Bear, are unable to subsist on Sphagnum moss and goat piss. Therefore, for all the stress the city can cause, you’re probably staying put. Don’t despair, and don’t cause yourself the anxiety of spending every day wishing it away. It’s a challenging place to be, and the incidence of mental health problems in the capital is a real and growing concern. In fact, all lightheartedness aside, Londoner’s are the most likely of all people in the UK to suffer from conditions like depression and anxiety.
Given all of this, maintaining a sound mind in the Big Smoke has got to be about finding things that are readily at your disposal and using them to minimise stress, to help you manage the mental health minefield of London from within. Here are our top five London-centric suggestions:
Whatever TFL are saying, the tube is not conducive to good mental health. You’re on a packed train, underground, in the dark. Plus, you’re likely to be in intolerably close proximity to someone else’s armpit. This environment is one hundred percent de-zen. Couple this with the fact that you are probably either late, stressing about what you’re boss thinks of you, or trying to do your mascara whilst hurtling through Kennington, and you have a veritable crucible of negative thoughts and feelings.
Abandon the underground and come to the surface! Try walking into work or into Central London. Camden to the Strand seems like a long way, but it’s actually takes just over an hour. Yes, you will need to leave a little earlier in the morning, but the extra light, fresh, air, and exercise will do you good. Plus, it’s a great way to start finding your way around without the need to be glued to Google Maps.
- Go to Richmond Park
Everyone should go to Richmond Park, it’s brilliant. It’s the epitome of popping the soapy membrane of stress from inside the London bubble. It also allows the escape-to-the-country fantasists amongst you to indulge in dreams of that hut.
It’s one of the few places in the city that really allows you to feel entirely disconnected from the hustle and bustle of life in the capital. Its great for a walk, run, or cycle, and comes complete with a couple of herds of deer. What’s not to love?
- Imagine you’re a German
Not one to recommend to your granddad, especially if he was ‘there’. Anyway, in the spirit of Anglo-German relations, let us imagine that you have transmogrified into one of our Bavarian cousins. This Herr or Frau has never visited London. What things would you suggest they see first, and which places should they visit? Now stop for a second and ask your self which of these places you have seen or visited. We imagine it’s not that many.
Parliament and Big Ben, The London eye, The Natural History Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Camden Market, the list is endless. Busy Londoners tend to forget the brilliance of the (often free) tourist attractions all around them. Try being a German for the day and explore the city like they would. Life here doesn’t have to be all Waterloo, Shoreditch, and pop-up Rekorderlig parties you read about in Time Out. Spend a few days enjoying the good clean fun that London has to offer.
- Make the most of your rent
It costs an eye-watering amount to live in London. If you’re a middle class professional you’ve got it easy. Communities across the city are finding themselves priced out of areas that they have called home for several generations. Private landlords are running amok, and rent controls are still a fuzzy dot on the policy agenda. Gentrifiers and those who lose out in this process of accelerated socioeconomic change are locked in a divisive battle which has no clear winners (other than the landlords, obviously).
However, whoever you are you are, you are undoubtedly working very hard to pay your rent. Why not stop and enjoy it? It’s important to keep yourself busy and get out and about, but it’s also equally important to make some time for rest and relaxation. You don’t need a health spa to do to recharge and destress. Buy some cheap candles, run a bath, and pop on the TV and spend a weeknd in your flat lounging around. Try to couple this with some healthy eating and you’ll go back to work feeling calm and well.
Johnsonian buffoonery was at the root of many evils, but we have to applaud the former Mayor for his bike-centric approach. London is a pretty good city to cycle around, and the trusty Boris Bike means that you can go for a pedal pretty much any time and any place, even if you don’t own your own two-wheeled vehicle.
You cant rent a Boris bike pretty cheaply, and if you’re not a regular cyclist it can open up a whole new perspective on the city as well as providing some gentle exercise. Be sure to take care on the roads, and wear a helmet if you can. Taxi drivers are a little unforgiving when it comes to bikes.