Life in the big smoke

Is living in London making me sick?

Is life in the big city good for you?

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I started talking about London and what this city has done to us since we moved here. We talked about being more stressed, more tired and having a lowered tolerance for coping with with crowds or public transport.

When I first came to London I used to love the tube. I spent days just travelling around the city, exploring different areas. I rode buses for hours and didn’t care about being crammed between people loudly snacking on food or with music blaring out of their headphones. I didn’t mind the crowds in central London or rush hour on the tube. I walked around feeling awestruck and in love with the city.

Perhaps that early infatuation with the city shielded me from the parts of London that are busy, stressful and draining. Today I avoid rush hour on the tube. Unless I absolutely have to I will choose other travel options. I try to walk as much as I can. I long for green spaces, for nature and for some peace and quiet.

In a city like London you’re confronted with waves of stressed out people, traffic, pollution and noise every day. It’s hard not to let that wear you down. And it’s not just me thinking like this. Recent articles have shown that urban living can be bad for your mental health.


A study at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany discovered that city dwellers’ brains didn’t handle stress as well as the brains of people who live in the countryside. Urban living has also been found to increase anxiety disorders and mood disorders by 21 percent and 39 percent respectively.

Some researchers suggest our brains aren’t wired to live in cities and suggest so called loneliness in crowds is the cause of a lot of big city pain. The theory is that if we feel isolated when we’re constantly surrounded by people it can lead to depression and anxiety.

I grew up in a small town, with the countryside close by, and I couldn’t wait to escape to the big city. The small town felt stifling and when I moved to London I loved the freedom of exploring new areas of the city, knowing I would never bump into anyone I knew.

But after five years in London I’m longing for the countryside and a closer connection to those around me. It’s like a humming inside my bones, I want to wake up and breathe fresh air, I want to look out of my window and see fields.

I also know it’s easy to long for what you don’t have. Perhaps the countryside would get stifling and boring after a while and then the fast-paced life of the big city would seem a lot more attractive again. In the end it’s worth making the best of where you are.


I still love this city and I right now both Gerry and I need to be here. Our work is here, our lives are here and like so many Londoners we’ve managed to cope with the stress of city living. After a while you mostly stay within your own area and you stop seeing friends who live far away. Going out and experiencing all those amazing things London has to offer doesn’t seem quite as exciting as an evening on the couch. You get to know your local cafe, your local bar and a few local restaurants and you’re happy staying in your own postcode. This is one way of coping, but there are other ways to deal with the city madness.

In the next blog post I’ll put together a small survival guide for city-dwellers longing for the countryside.

Images by David Marcu.


[…] a previous I wrote about how life in big cities can make you a bit wobbly. These are a couple of my coping techniques when life in London starts to get a bit […]

Ian says:

I left London yesterday after 4 days. I had a great job opportunity there, but in the end that way of life is absolutely horrendous. It was making me ill also. Maybe I would of got used to it, but seeing how miserable everyone looked – I thought – I didn’t *want* to get used to it. So came back home to Yorkshire and feel so much better

Lotta says:

Some people just can’t stand this place. I understand it on some level, but to me there are still so many great things about this place. It’s good to know where home is though. And Yorkshire is lovely.

Heidi says:

Thank you for this post. After recent years searching online for articles or blogs by others with the same experience it’s refreshing to finally read words that have echoed every single one of my own. I’ve been here 15 years and am only now waking up to the possibility that maybe it IS London after all and not just me.

Lotta says:

Hi Heidi. I’m glad you like the post. London’s not the easiest place to live in and I guess we all just have to find ways to deal with it. I wonder if it has something to do with where and how we grew up. I grew up in a small town, perhaps that’s why I struggle with the crowds and stress of this place sometimes.

Lilis says:

I’m a 29yo quite successful foreigner and after being in london for 6 years I started hating this place and wishing to never come near this terrible overcrowded city. I lived previously in HK and Tokyo and never had such negative feelings about those. I will explain myself. Pretty much everything in here is an exaggeration, the prices are horrendous for rent and property purchase, traveling, food, theatres, cinemas, zoo and etc. I was lucky enough to work myself off and to buy a house in zone 2 several years ago , I mean get on the property ladder and pay close to 2k a month margate. Thought that would make my life easier but still the noise from outside makes it impossible to have a single peaceful night, wearing earplugs is a must. Socialising without getting completely wasted is also something I have not experienced in years. Good quality food has a big tag on it. Transport has many flaws. People are not nice and generally don’t care for others, example pregnant and old people standing on the trains. And the weather is just horrid. So yes if you fancy to earn money and pay for it by loosing friendships, getting awful stress everyday, being depressed with no sunshine, frustrated with people who don’t know the rules on the street and payments, looking for a decent job for a long time, trying to get on the 3rd late train, not recognising if today is Monday or Thursday, then yes come to london. It offers this all. The Nice things seen by tourists like theatres and musicals after two years become invisible and you are trying to figure out what is the meaning if life, life like this.

Alina Matei says:

I live outside London( 20 min by train to Euston ) and every single time I visit London(for any reason), and I avoid it like the plague, I get sick. Actually I had to go with my family this week into London and guess what? I am sick. I hate London! Even for half a day. I prefer the countryside. How can some people love London is a mystery to me.

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