What well-being and self-care means as an expat in London

This is a sponsored post by Aetna International

“When you are tired of London, you are tired of life” – the one phrase that would make most expats living in London want to push you into the Thames and then dump a pint on your head. The reason this phrase causes such an extreme reaction is London by its very nature is an exhausting city. I’ve written about it before, but the reality continues to be that London is a city that is not kind to the people that live here. The air quality sucks, the transport options are hard work (the average commute for someone in London is 81 minutes in and out of work, this equates to 38 working days a year stuck in someone’s armpit), the rent is crippling and in the last couple of years the news is permanently dire*. Living in London is in a word, tiring.

This exhausting state of London is why self-care so often crosses my mind. I’m not talking buying bath bombs and going on retreats in a country mansion; the self-care I’m thinking of is remembering to wash your hair every few days, eat vegetables at least once a week and that a combination of sleep and tea can solve almost any problem. After 6 years I am finally getting my head around why I take such shocking care of myself while I live in London, it is the question of permanence.

I don’t know how long I will live in London for. I just don’t. I don’t know if it will be one month, one year or ten years more (although I do know which one my Mum would prefer!). It took me living here for 5 years before I purchased a piece of furniture. Purchasing furniture seemed like something someone who was settled would do (apparently 5 years didn’t count as settled in my head), and while wholeheartedly committed to London the question mark always lurked in the back of my mind.

I really REALLY want a cat. But again, the main reason for not getting one (aside from the whole London anti-pet-landlord cartel) is that they live for 10+ years, and I don’t know how long I will be here for. Aetna International picked this up in their Wellness Survey 2018, they found expat life can shift your thinking in terms of how to make the short term easy rather than long term happiness.

What this does to an expats state of mind is it makes all the thinking alarmingly short term, even when that is sometimes (often) the worst thing you can do in terms of wellness. Of course I can drink every night, eat Pret for lunch and street food for dinner – I don’t want to miss out on a second of London life. Of course no one would expect you to go out and exercise when it gets dark at 3pm and you just want to hibernate, or when it is sunny until ten and you need to suck up enough vitamin D to last you through the next 8 months. Work hard, play hard: future you will worry about your wellbeing.

Of course that is in no way sustainable. The vegetables, the full night’s sleep and taking time for quiet chats with friends are needed to survive the exhausting London existence. But that takes time to recognise. Time, and experience. In the Wellness Survey 2018 a big point is around mindfulness, to be happy as an expat you need to find a way to be “happy and content with your situation and being appreciative in that moment”. Regardless of how long you plan to be in London, it is so important to your happiness to be able to enjoy the city for what it is. Book those amazing theatre experiences even though you know you will be tired after work. Walk along the river from Tate to Tate just to enjoy the momentary Spring sunshine. Revel in the fact that you live in one of the best cities in the world, leading a life that past you could only hope for. It’s hard to appreciate that moment, we are always looking ahead to the next step, but it can make all the difference to your overseas experience.

From a Granny Expat to any of you young kids, take care of yourself. The more you look after your wellness, the more energy you will have to take on London. Check out Aetna International’s Expat Wellness Survey here.

*There are beautiful, positive and inspiring aspects to living in London as well which is why I still live here.

1 Comment

  1. May 25, 2018 / 10:19 pm

    You can always take your cat with you – although I understand the hesitance as I *really* want a dog but I also don’t know whether I want to travel more, or move abroad again in the next few years so it makes it difficult to do so.

    If you ever need a break from the London way of life I have greenery, a beach and a blow up bed in the spare room you’re more than welcome to sleep on! xx

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