London is a place that seems to stress people out. Whether it's the unfeasibly large crowds at Oxford Circus, the reliability of Southern Rail, or the fact that all restaurants, coffee, clothes, and barbers shops look suspiciously alike in East London, the city will find a unique way to raise your blood pressure. The obvious answer is to take flight, to move somewhere else. As with all easy answers, however, this one too is inherently flawed. For all the hideous bits of London life the city retains a kind of mystical, mildly transcendental lure. Plus, if you have lived in London for long enough then the thought of waiting more than three 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.
Let's be more realistic. You live, work, and probably (secretly) like the place. Don't spend all your time fantasising about a hut on a remote island. For all the stress the city can cause, you're more than likely 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, Londoners 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 some easy, city-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. 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.
2. 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. It's great for a walk, run, or cycle, and comes complete with a couple of herds of deer. What's not to love?
3. 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 yourself 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.
4. 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. Many communities across the city are finding themselves priced out of areas that they have called home for generations. Private landlords are running amok, and rent controls are still a fuzzy dot on the policy agenda. Gentrifiers and those who are dislocated 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? You don't need a health spa to do to recharge and de-stress. Buy some cheap candles, run a bath, and pop on the TV and spend a weekend in your flat lounging around.
(For more hints and tips visit the Practical Depression blog).