People can find living in London tough as a result of its high-pressure culture and expensive cost of living. Both personal and professional life in the capital can become stressful, leading to feelings of isolation. Many Londoners feel burnt out, leaving them more vulnerable to developing addictive behaviours.
Read on as we explore the reasons why people living in London can suffer high levels of stress and burnout. In addition, we will provide you with key resources to help you identify stress and devise coping strategies to avoid burnout and vulnerability to addictions.
Why are burnout and stress common in London?
With its non-stop, fast-paced, competitive lifestyle, London can be an exciting place to live. However, these factors can just as easily lead to stress and burnout, especially if you’re not used to the capital’s way of life.
Some of the major factors that increase the risks of stress in London include the long working hours and the competitive nature of jobs. While it’s an ideal place to get your foot on the careers ladder, attracting young job seekers looking for lucrative opportunities, its working culture is extremely competitive.
This non-stop pressure can often lead to overworking. Studies show people in London are more likely to work overtime – 61% of it unpaid – than anywhere else in the UK.
Reports show London’s young professionals are at a higher risk of depression and anxiety, due to comparing themselves to co-workers and continually feeling they must overachieve to succeed. This often leads to working even longer hours, resulting in higher stress levels and burnout in the workplace.
In addition, commuters in London find the journey long and stressful. Even people who live and work in the city can endure a commute of up to two hours, with the average journey taking 74 minutes, due to the sheer volume of traffic and the number of commuters. A recent survey has shown that around 50% of London commuters feel their daily commute adds to their stress levels.
They must leave home early and arrive back late, leading to very little relaxation time when combined with their long working hours. Exhaustion becomes a very real risk for people who don’t have enough time to unwind and rest.
London’s high levels of overpopulation and pollution also have a negative impact on residents’ mental health. Research has shown poor mental health increases among people living in crowded cities, due to environmental and social factors, combined with stimulation overload. Studies suggest pollution may be linked to mental health problems, including depression.
Epidemic of loneliness
People in London are facing an “epidemic of loneliness”, combined with a lack of community, according to a Time Out report in 2017. While massive numbers of people live in the capital, many of them report feelings of loneliness.
In fact, London is one of the world’s loneliest cities, with two-thirds of residents aged under 24 admitting to feeling lonely and 26% of residents aged over 45 feeling the same way.
The common culture of “keeping yourself to yourself” is a major contributory factor. According to the Time Out report, people living in London are 25% less likely to talk to a stranger compared with people living in other major cities, such as Chicago.
A social experiment in 2016 – when former Colorado resident Jonathan Dunne handed out badges containing the words, “Tube Chat” to London commuters to encourage interaction – was a crashing failure.
People were encouraged to wear the badge if they were open to conversation, but the experiment trended on social media for all the wrong reasons, when critics slammed the idea of “random strangers wanting to talk”.
London is such a sprawling city that residents’ chances of randomly bumping into a friend are 24% less than they would be living elsewhere. Yet bumping into someone for a chat can enhance feelings of community and combat loneliness. Feeling lonely can make stress even more intense.
When you’re feeling lonely, accessing your support network can be complicated by where you live, as you may not be physically close to another person. When you’re physically close to someone, it produces dopamine in your system that can reduce stress. Consequently, living in London, in a largely impersonal environment, can make stress much worse.
Signs and symptoms of burnout and stress
Even though many Londoners suffer from burnout and stress, it can be surprisingly difficult to recognise the symptoms, signs and triggers – especially when you live in a culture where these states of mind can appear normal.
The most important thing anyone can do to help cope and recover is to be aware of the signs of stress and burnout before they start to seriously impact your life and health in the long term.
Learning the difference between burnout and stress is the first step towards recovery. Each condition is different and they will manifest themselves in your body in different ways.
What is stress?
According to the NHS, stress is the body’s reaction to feeling under pressure or threatened. It was first recognised by the medical profession in the 1920s. Anything from feeling in immediate danger to continued emotional pressure counts as stress.
Hans Selye’s interest in stress began while still in medical school. The Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist recognised a common set of symptoms among patients with various chronic illnesses, such as tuberculosis and cancer. These symptoms are now attributed to stress.
Someone suffering from too much stress will realise how severely it can take its toll on both their physical and mental health. With stress being so common in London, its key symptoms can be hard to spot. They can be emotional and physical, leading to behavioural changes.
Identifying the symptoms can help you to avoid the long-term health impacts of chronic stress, which can lead to extreme health issues. It can even prove fatal for people who have underlying heart issues.
The physical symptoms of stress vary and no two people are the same. However, the NHS details the most common physical signs as headaches, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, nausea and sickness, problems sleeping, feeling constantly tired, a lack of energy, eating too little or too much and a change in libido.
When you experience one or more of these symptoms regularly, it could be your body’s way of telling you it needs help.
Emotional signs of stress
If you’re suffering from stress, it can also significantly affect your emotional well-being. The emotional symptoms of stress can include irritability and feeling “wound up” a lot of the time, feeling overwhelmed, low self-esteem and constantly worrying.
You may be continually dealing with a “busy” mind and racing thoughts, experience difficulty in concentrating, have trouble making decisions and may gradually develop other mental health conditions, or anxiety disorders.
Any of these symptoms can make daily living extremely difficult, especially if you’re working in a high-pressure environment. Stress can impact on your behaviour in many ways, with the combination of physical and emotional symptoms taking their toll.
The most common behavioural traits resulting from stress include drinking more alcohol than normal to numb negative emotions, engaging in recreational drug use more often, or smoking more than usual. You may be irritable and snap at people, or avoid tasks that you have problems with. Being prone to crying more, or feeling fearful, are also common.
What is burnout?
The medical profession defines burnout as the “the extinction of motivation or incentive” – a phrase coined by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 – who notes it occurs “especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results”.
Recognised relatively recently, burnout hasn’t been as widely studied as stress. However, it is known that it stems mainly from a person’s job or responsibilities, especially if they work for long hours in a high-pressure environment where they are surrounded by competitive working cultures.
Anyone can suffer burnout, regardless of whether it’s due to responsibilities in their work or personal life. Burnout symptoms can be different from those of stress, although both conditions can lead to similar behavioural patterns and coping mechanisms.
According to Helpguide, the physical symptoms of burnout can include continual headaches, stomach ache and intestinal issues, lowered immunity, feeling tired and drained most of the time, frequent illnesses and muscle pains.
The emotional symptoms of burnout include feeling defeated, helpless and trapped, a general sense of failure and self-doubt, feeling alone and detached, losing motivation, an increasingly negative and cynical outlook, a decreased sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, anxiety and depression.
These symptoms can manifest themselves in your behaviour. You may withdraw from your responsibilities and cancel plans, preferring to isolate yourself from other people and be alone. Taking longer to get things done and procrastinating are also traits.
You may also use food, alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings, while taking out your frustrations on other people, feeling irritable and lashing out. Burnout can affect your job, as you may skip work, arrive late and leave early, not really wishing to be there.
Coping with stress and burnout in London
There are ways to combat the negative impact stress and burnout can have on your life. Just as living in London can increase the chances of suffering from these conditions, it’s also an ideal place to find communities and programmes to find support and help manage your symptoms.
There are ways to tackle the symptoms of stress and burnout in London that are specific to the capital, such as engaging in the large exercise and fitness community. When you exercise, it releases chemicals known as endorphins, which reduce stress naturally.
London is one of the best places in the UK to get involved in exercise, as there are many gyms, a massive number of group exercise classes and a variety of outdoor green spaces, where you can comfortably exercise alone.
If you prefer to take part in group exercise, without having to pay for classes, our guide lists multiple free exercise groups available across London.
Connect with other people in London
If you’re lonely, this can worsen the symptoms of stress and burnout. Sharing your feelings is scientifically proven to help combat stress, so connecting with the people around you if you feel stressed or burnt out is of vital importance to your recovery.
While it can be difficult to reach out and connect with other London residents, thankfully there are a lot of different ways to do this, such as starting the process of creating your own like-minded community.
There are many ways to meet new people in London, such as friend-finding apps, exercise and hobby groups and other methods of making contact. However, this can feel a little overwhelming for someone who is already dealing with anxiety or mental health issues, on top of stress and burnout.
Luckily, there are alternative ways to meet people in London who will be especially sensitive and open. Mental Health Mates is a group of volunteers who have their own mental health issues. They organise regular walks for people who wish to connect with others. They run several walks in London, so participants realise they are not alone.
People in London who suffer from mental illness can join the London Depression and Associated Problems Meetup. It provides support and friendship for members through meeting up regularly and doing various activities.
For people who want to meet others to actively engage in stress-relieving activities, London Stress Relief Walks and Socials meetup fits the bill. It aims to help members meet up with like-minded people to “leave loneliness behind”.
If you struggle with shyness or social anxiety, there are many meetup groups designed to help you connect with new people. See a list of these groups here.
Gratitude and mindfulness
Practising gratitude and mindfulness are known ways of alleviating the symptoms of stress and burnout. Focus on the present and what you’re thankful for, as this can provide beneficial results. It has been found that daily gratitude practice can lower blood pressure, facilitate better sleep and improve immune function.
There are many organizations in London that can help you begin your journey into gratitude and mindfulness. The London Centre for Mindfulness, the London Mindful and Beingwell London are three mindfulness organizations that run courses in and around London.
In addition, the large number of mindfulness meetups in London provide a great way of meeting people. They can also be significantly more affordable than courses.
If you wish to practice gratitude and mindfulness alone, apps such as Calm and Headspace are known to be particularly helpful. Gratitude journaling is also known to be an effective practice.
Eating nutritious food
Food plays a key role in how stress affects the body and eating certain foods can help to alleviate your symptoms. Be aware of what you eat on a daily basis and don’t resort to eating fast food, which can be all too easy in a big city like London.
Enduring a long working day and eating too much cheap fast food can make you feel worse if you’re suffering from stress and burnout. Low nutrient comfort food is not the answer to alleviating your symptoms. The key to helping your body to recover from stress symptoms is eating nutrient-dense foods.
Always maintain good eating habits, even when you’re juggling a busy schedule. Try to prepare nutritious, home-cooked food the evening before work, so you have something to eat the next day, when you may not have enough time.
If you want to buy a takeaway, because you find cooking too much due to your stress levels, focus on food that’s high in nutrients. Alternatively, order healthy food online and have it delivered to your door. Try brands like Potage, Balance Box and The Pure Package, all of whom deliver healthy meals to your home or workplace.
Services such as these make healthy food more accessible for everyone, especially if you’re too busy to prepare your own meals.
Avoid addictive habits
If you’re coping with stress and burnout, it’s vital that you don’t indulge in addictive habits or substances. People who have stress and burnout commonly try to alleviate their symptoms by engaging in addictive behaviour.
For example, smokers may start smoking more frequently, or gamblers may spend more money or time indulging their habit online or in betting shops. People who are recreational drug users may find they are developing a dependence on drugs in their day-to-day life, while those who like an alcoholic drink may also start to develop a dependence.
Always remain aware of any potentially addictive habits you have, so you realise if they start taking over your life. Unfortunately, this can be one of the most difficult behaviours to identify and stop when your focus is on alleviating the symptoms of burnout and stress.
In this scenario, external help may be needed to prevent addictive behaviour. Our specialist addiction team can help with this. Steps+ is a London-based specialist addiction rehab clinic, providing home/outpatient recovery programmes for drugs, alcohol and behaviour disorders, such as gambling, sex, food and internet addiction.
When does stress and burnout lead to addiction?
Chronic stress increases vulnerability to addiction, as it can trigger a loss of control over impulses. This means people who are stressed are more likely to give in to their addictions, including drug abuse, smoking, overeating, alcohol abuse or gambling.
Addictions and substance abuse are well documented among people suffering from burnout. The key to understanding whether you have a stress-triggered addiction is to be aware of how addiction manifests itself. The symptoms and behaviours, below, are typical of addiction.
The physical symptoms of addiction can vary, depending on the addictive substance and behaviour. In general terms, the physical symptoms can include a lack of concern over your personal hygiene or appearance, insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns, irritability, sweats and shakes, seizures and a loss of concentration.
The emotional symptoms of addiction also depend on the substance or habit, but they frequently include mood swings, increased bad temper, chronic fatigue even after sleep and a deterioration in existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
People may also suffer defensiveness, low self-esteem and self-worth, paranoia, difficulty in concentrating and focusing, memory problems, poor judgement and decision-making and feelings of despair and hopelessness.
The behaviour of an addict is frequently universal – unlike the symptoms – no matter what the addiction is. An addict tends to continue practising certain behaviours, even though this causes negative consequences.
It can lead to dishonest or secretive behaviour, poor attendance and performance when it comes to obligations such as work, withdrawing from responsibility, reducing socialising, losing interest in hobbies and activities that used to be important and failing to stop substance abuse and certain behaviour, even when the results are negative.
When and where to find addiction help in London
Addiction caused by stress or burnout can be hard to deal with, treat and recover from. This is why it’s important to seek help when you realise you’re practising addictive behaviour. The sooner you admit you need help, the less the addiction will impact on your everyday life.
There are many types of addiction support on offer for people living in London. Help is never far away, from private support groups to rehabilitation centres.
If you prefer to try and manage your addiction alone, there’s a huge range of addiction community groups in London. A good starting point is to look into Meetup’s addiction management groups.
Alternatively, seek professional help with addiction. At Steps+, we offer home/outpatient specialized drug and alcohol rehab. Our experts at Steps+ addiction clinic in London provide recovery programs for drugs, alcohol and behavior disorders, such as poor mental health, gambling, sex, food and internet addiction.
We understand the connection between mental health, stress and addiction. Our dual diagnosis specialists can help patients to overcome both the addiction and the symptoms of stress and burnout.
We offer detox and home/outpatient services, giving you the best chance of recovery. To find out more details about our treatment services, get in touch with our team today.