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How to deal with ‘burnout’ and addiction in London

For many, living in London can be difficult. Known for its high cost of living, high-pressure culture and loneliness, both professional and personal life in London can become stressful and isolating.

As a result, it’s not uncommon for Londoners to become stressed, burnt out and at increased risk of developing addictive behaviours.

In this article, we explore the reasons why living in London can lead to high levels of stress and burnout. We’ll also provide you with key resources to help you identify and cope with stress and avoid burnout and subsequent addictive tendencies.

Why burnout and stress are common in London

London is well known for it’s non-stop, competitive, fast-paced lifestyle. While these attributes can make it a very exciting place to live, they can equally lead to stress and burnout, especially for people who aren’t used to London’s way of life. 

Let’s look at some of the common factors that make stress more common in London.

London jobs are competitive and working hours are long

London is a great place to get a foot on your chosen career ladder, making it attractive to young people seeking lucrative work opportunities. However, London’s working culture is also competitive and non-stop and pressure to perform can lead to overworking. In fact, London workers are most likely to work overtime – 61% of which is unpaid. 

Furthermore, recent reports have shown how young professionals face a greater risk of anxiety and depression due to feeling they need to overachieve and compare themselves with co-workers. This can lead to even longer hours, resulting in high levels of stress, and/or workplace burnout.

Commutes are long and stressful in London

Despite living and working in the same city, commutes in London can last up to 2 hours, with the average commute taking 74 minutes. This means commuters often leave home early and arrive home late. 

When combined with long working hours, this can lead to minimal resting. This makes exhaustion a real risk for people who are unable to find time to disconnect or rest.

In addition, London commutes are infamous for being busy and stressful. In fact, a recent survey showed that around half of London commuters agree their daily commute increases their stress levels.

London has high levels of pollution and overpopulation 

London is overcrowded and polluted, both of which have been proven to have an impact on mental health. 

Studies have seen increased rates in poor mental health for those living in crowded cities, blaming social and environmental factors, as well as stimulation overload. In addition, recent studies have shown that pollution may be linked to mental health issues such as depression. 

London faces an epidemic of loneliness and a lack of community

Despite huge numbers of people living in London, many Londoners report feeling lonely. In a Time Out report in 2017, London came out as one of the loneliest cities in the world, with 66% of under 24s feeling lonely and 26% of over 45s feeling the same. 

There are lots of reasons why loneliness occurs on such a large scale in London. The culture of “keeping yourself to yourself” seems to be a contributing factor. Time Out’s report states that Londoners are 25% less likely to chat with a stranger compared with people living in Chicago. 

Due to the sprawling nature of the city, Londoners are also 24% less likely to randomly bump into a friend. This reduces the sense of community that helps combat loneliness. Loneliness can make stress feel even more intense. The access to your support network may also be complicated by geography. When you’re lonely, you miss out on the dopamine that’s produced when you’re physically close to another person. This increases the probability of stress.

Signs and symptoms of stress and burnout

With so many factors contributing to stress and burnout, it’s not surprising many Londoners suffer from the conditions. However, it can be difficult to identify the signs, symptoms and triggers – especially from within a culture where these states appear normal.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of stress is the most important thing you can do to help yourself better cope and recover from these conditions – before the conditions affect you in the long term. 

Burnout V stress – learn the difference 

Before we look at the symptoms of stress and burnout, it’s important to identify the difference between the conditions. These conditions are not the same and manifest in the body in different ways. 

What is stress?

Stress was first acknowledged in the 1920s and according to the NHS is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. Anything from the body responding to immediate danger to emotional pressure counts as stress, and it’s a completely normal part of life. However, too much stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health. 

Identifying the symptoms of stress 

Because stress is so commonplace in London, some of its very obvious and key symptoms can go unrecognised.

Stress symptoms can be physical and emotional, which can then lead to behavioural changes. Learning to identify these symptoms will help you avoid the long term health impact of stress. In many cases, chronic stress can lead to extreme health issues, and if you have underlying heart issues, it can even lead to death.   

The physical symptoms of stress

The physical symptoms of stress will vary from person to person. However, the NHS states the following as the most common and telling physical symptoms of stress:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Dizziness
  • Sickness/nausea
  • Problems sleeping
  • Feeling tired all the time, lack of energy
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Change in libido 

If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms regularly, this may be your body’s way of telling you it needs help. 

Emotional symptoms of stress

Stress can also drastically affect your emotions and your mood. Emotional symptoms that indicate you’re experiencing stress include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling irritable and “wound up” a lot of the time
  • Lacking in self-esteem
  • Dealing with racing thoughts and a busy mind
  • Constantly worrying 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Developing anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions

These symptoms can make day-to-day living very difficult, especially if you’re working in a high pressured environment. 

Behavioural signs of stress

The combination of stress’s emotional and physical symptoms can take their toll on your behaviour. Common behavioural signs of stress include:

  • Drinking more than usual/depending on alcohol to numb or mute negative feelings 
  • Engaging in recreational drug use more frequently
  • Smoking more than usual
  • Snapping at people, being irritable 
  • Avoiding tasks or people you are having problems with
  • Being fearful or crying with more ease than normal

What exactly is burnout?

Burnout is defined as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” The term was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, making it a relatively recent condition. It hasn’t been as widely studied as stress. 

Burnout tends to stem from a person’s job or responsibilities, most commonly triggered by high pressure, long hours, and competitive working cultures. However, anyone can suffer from burnout, whether it’s due to responsibilities in their professional or personal life.

The symptoms of burnout

Burnout symptoms can be very different to stress. However, both conditions can lead to similar behavioural signs and coping methods which we’ll discuss further below. 

According to Helpguide, below are some of the symptoms of burnout.

The physical symptoms of burnout

  • Ongoing headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Other intestinal issues
  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Muscle pain

The emotional symptoms of burnout

Emotional symptoms that indicate you’re suffering from burnout can include:

  • A sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world 
  • Loss of motivation
  • An increasingly cynical and negative outlook 
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
  • Anxiety and/or depression 

The behavioural symptoms of burnout

As with stress, the combination of burnout’s emotional and physical symptoms often have an impact on behaviour. Common behavioural signs of burnout tend to include:

  • Withdrawing from your responsibilities and cancelling plans  
  • Isolating yourself from others and staying alone 
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with/mute/numb feelings
  • Taking out your frustrations on others, lashing out, being irritable
  • Skipping work, or arriving late and leaving early

Ways you can cope with stress and burnout in London

If you’re experiencing any stress or burnout symptoms, there are ways to combat the negative impact these conditions can have on your life.

While living in London can increase the likelihood of dealing with these conditions, it’s also a great place to find communities and programmes which can help you manage your symptoms and find support.

Below is a list of London-specific ways you can tackle the symptoms of stress and burnout. 

  • Engage in London’s exercise and fitness community.  

Woman exercising in London representing positive mental health

Getting involved in exercise releases endorphin chemicals which naturally reduce stress. 

Luckily, London is a great place to get involved in exercise. There are countless gyms, a huge number of group exercise classes and a wide choice of outside green spaces for exercising alone.

If you’d prefer to get involved in group exercise without paying for classes, this guide lists a number of free exercise groups available throughout London. 

  • Connect with local people in London

Loneliness can exacerbate symptoms of stress and burnout. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that sharing feelings can help to combat stress. That’s why connecting with people around you when you’re feeling burnt out or stressed is more important than ever. 

It can be tough to reach out and connect with people in London. Thankfully, there are many different ways you can start the process of creating your own community in London.

This article about how to meet new people details different ways to meet and connect with locals. Meetups, friend-finding apps and hobby and exercise groups are included as ways to connect with others.

However, some of these methods can feel overwhelming – especially if you’re already dealing with mental health issues or anxiety on top of stress or burnout symptoms. Luckily, in London, there are alternative ways to meet people who will be especially open and sensitive.

Mental Health Mates is a group made up of volunteers with their own mental health issues who run regular walks for people who want to connect with others. They run several in London, and aim to “help you realise that you are not alone.”

The London Depression & Associated Problems Meetup is designed for people who suffer from mental illness in London. The purpose of the group is to provide support and friendship to each other through meeting to do various activities on a regular basis.

For those who want to meet people and actively engaging in stress-relieving activities, London Stress Relief Walks and Socials meetup is ideal. Its purpose is to “help members meet like-minded people and leave loneliness behind.”

Lastly, if you’re someone who struggles with social anxiety or shyness, there are a number of meetup groups that are designed to help you connect with new people. You can see a list of these here

  • Practice gratitude and mindfulness 

Gratitude and mindfulness have been proven to help alleviate the symptoms of stress and burnout. Focusing on the present and what you’re thankful for can have extremely beneficial results. In fact, daily gratitude practice has been proven to lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.

In London, there are many organisations that can help you start your journey into gratitude and mindfulness. Check out the three mindfulness organisations below. Each run mindfulness courses in and around London.

London Centre for Mindfulness

London Mindful 

BeingwellLondon 

There are also a large number of mindfulness meetups in London too. This is a great way to meet people and can be considerably more affordable than courses. 

If you’d prefer to practice gratitude and mindfulness alone, there are other resources available. Apps like Headspace and Calm are known to be particularly helpful for personal mindfulness practice. Gratitude journaling is also known to be very effective.

  • Eat nutritious food 

Picture of strawberries representing nutritional food

Food plays a huge role in how stress manifests in the body, and eating certain foods can exacerbate your symptoms.

That’s why it’s important to be conscious of what you’re eating on a daily basis. In big cities like London, it can be easy to resort to fast food. Long working days combined with an abundance of cheap, fast food options can lead stressed and burnt out Londoners to indulge in low nutrient comfort food – which only makes them feel worse.

  1. Eating nutrient-dense food is key to helping your body recover from stress symptoms. Below are some ideas to help maintain good eating habits while juggling a busy schedule.
  2. Prepare home-cooked, nutritious food the evening before work.
  3. Focus on buying healthy takeaway food that is high in nutrients. This is a good option if you find cooking overwhelming due to your levels of stress and burnout.
  4. Get healthy food delivered to you. Companies like The Pure Package, Balance Box and Potage are examples of companies in London that deliver healthy meals to homes and workspaces. They make healthy food more accessible, especially for busy Londoners who don’t have time to prepare their own food.
  • Avoid engaging in unhelpful and addictive habits 

When dealing with stress and burnout, it’s crucial that you try to reduce your engagement in addictive habits or substances. 

It’s well known that people suffering from stress and burnout have a tendency to engage in addictive behaviour as a way to alleviate their symptoms. 

For example, those who already smoke may find they start to smoke more frequently. Gamblers may spend more time and money gambling online or in gambling shops. Recreational drug users may start to develop a dependence on the drug that starts to appear in their day to day life. People who drink a lot may start to develop a daily dependence on alcohol.

So, when coping with burnout or stress, it’s important to stay aware of any potentially addictive habits you might have. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to identify when you’re focused on alleviating stress or burnout symptoms. 

This is when external addiction help may be needed – something that our specialist addiction team can help with. Gladstones Clinic is a specialised addiction rehab clinic based in London. We provide private residential recovery programmes for alcohol, drugs and behaviour disorders like gambling, food, sex and internet addiction.

Read on to learn more about the link between stress, burnout and addiction.

When stress and burnout leads to addiction 

There’s a reason that chronic stress can increase vulnerability to addiction. Chronic stress can trigger a loss of control over impulses, meaning that stressed people are more prone to giving into addictions such as smoking, gambling, overeating, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Addiction and substance abuse are also well documented amongst people suffering from burnout.

Being aware of how addiction manifests is key to understanding if you have a stress-triggered addiction. Take a look at the below symptoms and behaviours of addiction. 

The physical symptoms of addiction 

Physical symptoms of addiction will depend on the addictive substance or behaviour. However, general addiction physical symptoms often include:

  • A lack of concern over your physical appearance
  • A lack of concern over your personal hygiene 
  • Disrupted sleep patterns or insomnia
  • Sweats and shakes
  • Seizures
  • Irritability
  • Reduced concentration

The emotional symptoms of addiction

Again, these symptoms will depend on the addictive substance or habit, but emotional symptoms of addiction often include:

  • Mood swings and/or an increased temper
  • Chronic fatigue despite sleep
  • Worsening of existing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety 
  • Paranoia and defensiveness
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Poor judgement/decision making
  • Problems with memory
  • Low self-worth and self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair 

Behavioural signs of addiction

Unlike the symptoms, the behaviour of an addict is often universal, regardless of what the addiction is:

  • Continuing to engage in certain behaviours or substance use despite negative consequences caused
  • Secretive or dishonest behaviour
  • Poor performance and/or attendance regarding obligations
  • Withdrawal from responsibility
  • A reduction in socialising 
  • A loss of interest in hobbies or events that were once important 
  • Failing to reduce or stop substance abuse or the engagement of certain behaviours

When and where to get help for addiction in London

Addiction brought on by stress or burnout can be especially difficult to cope with, treat and recover from. That’s why it’s important to seek help as soon as you realise you’re engaging in addictive behaviour as a result of stress or burnout. 

The sooner you get help, the less impact addiction will have on your day to day life.

For those living in London, there are many types of addiction support available. From private support groups to rehabilitation centres, help is never out of reach.

For example, if you’d prefer to manage your addiction alone, London is home to a huge range of addiction community groups. You can explore Meetup’s addiction management groups here.

Alternatively, you can opt for professional help with addiction. At Gladstones, we offer specialised drug and alcohol rehab. 

Gladstones addiction clinic in London

Gladstones Clinic is a specialised addiction rehab clinic based in London. Our experts provide private residential recovery programmes for alcohol, drugs and behaviour disorders like poor mental health, gambling, food, sex and internet addiction. 

We understand the connection between mental health, stress and addiction, and our dual diagnosis specialists can help you overcome both your addiction and your stress and burnout symptoms. 

We offer detox and primary care rehabilitation services in a residential setting, giving you the best chance of recovery. Find out more about our treatment services here, and get in touch with our team today.  

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