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I moved to London and found it too stressful. Now I'm leaving for Portugal.

Alcynna Lloyd   

I moved to London and found it too stressful. Now I'm leaving for Portugal.
  • Michal Burton, 28, thought moving from Ireland to London was a good chance to make more money.
  • While he is earning more, Burton feels that life in London can be stressful and lonely.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michael Burton, a 28-year-old quantity surveyor from Ireland who moved to London in 2023. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I'm from Enniskerry, a town in the countryside, up in the Wicklow Mountains. It's probably the most rural place you can live that's somewhat close to Dublin.

Until I was eight, I grew up on a farm with my mom and my grandparents. It was a pretty good life; we had a lot of animals, and I had quads and motorbikes. When I was nine, my mom, stepfather, little sister, and I moved into a house up the road from my grandparents' place.

In 2018, I left Ireland after graduating from university and moved to London. I wanted something completely different, and there were better job opportunities there. My friends had also completed university, so four of us moved together.

I lived in London until COVID hit in 2020 and then moved back to Ireland. It's such a small place that you eventually run out of things to do and places to go — and run into too many people you know.

In 2023, I decided to move back to London.

I wanted to see London through fresh eyes

The first time I moved to the UK, I was about 23. My lifestyle back then was a lot different than it is now. I was overweight, drank most days, and did drugs. Even though I was very unhappy, the London party lifestyle was what I enjoyed.

When I moved back to Ireland during COVID, I got really into fitness, and did triathlons, Ironman races, and other challenges.

When my partner and I decided to try London again, I wanted to see what it would be like living there as a completely different person under new circumstances.

So far, my second run in the UK has taught me that sometimes it's worthwhile knowing what you don't want.

Life in London can be lonely

I live in Tooting, just beside Balham in the Wandsworth area.

It's a pretty vibrant suburb and very multicultural. I would say it's an affordable part of the city. However, there's a lot of gentrification. There are more young professionals living here now than there are working-class families.

There's also very little community spirit. To be honest, it can be pretty lonely living here. Not many people talk to each other and everyone kind of sticks to themselves.

There are green spaces, but they're quite small. At least, if I were living back home in Ireland, I would be in nature and I'd have my dog.

Regardless of where you live in London, it's a super stressful place. You can always hear either sirens, cars, horns, or people rushing.

I feel that as humans, we all have a certain amount of stress that we can handle. In the city, there are so many micro-stressors throughout the course of your day that eventually, it starts to spill over.

The hustle and bustle of city life is stressful

If you are looking to advance your career, regardless of your profession — whether you are an artist, actor, quantity surveyor, or work in finance or consulting — the opportunities available in London far surpass those in Ireland.

As a quantity surveyor, I wouldn't get paid half as much in Ireland as in the UK.

I'd probably be paid about 40,000 euros ($43,592) in Ireland. However, if you convert my salary into pounds, I'm earning about £5,000 ($6,325) or £6,000 ($7,590) more.

The caveat to this is I have no interest in my job, therefore London doesn't fill my cup anymore. While it can be a fabulous place to meet like-minded people and earn more money, I just don't think London serves me or gives me what I'm looking for in life.

London is a bit of a vortex in the sense that between 8 a.m. on a Monday and 4 p.m. on a Friday, you have this super stressful, nearly unsociable, lonely experience.

For me, a typical day is to wake up at 5 a.m., do an ice bath, go to the gym, then head to work at 8 a.m. Work until 1 o'clock, go to the gym again at lunchtime, work until 5 p.m., come home, work on starting my own fitness and wellness business, and then go to sleep, and wake up at five again.

Some people like a nine-to-five, and that's great — there's nothing wrong with that. But certain circumstances in my life have fostered the mindset that time is way more important than anything else. Personally, I don't want to give my time to something I'm not passionate about or benefit from apart from a paycheck.

I try to fill my weekends with fitness — seeing friends and making connections — because, for me, that's what makes London palatable and enjoyable.

I love the fitness community, but the city just isn't for me

I wouldn't have as many opportunities to join fitness and running clubs or gym classes in Ireland as I do in the UK.

I believe the people I've met through the run clubs and fitness activities are going to be with me for the rest of my life. I find that aspect of living in London incredibly valuable, and I wouldn't change it.

However, those connections shouldn't necessarily keep me there. If they are as strong as I believe, then moving to a different place shouldn't really affect them.

In June, I am moving to Lisbon. I'm looking forward to Portugal's slower pace of life, better weather conditions, cheaper cost of living, and friendlier people.

I'm also hoping to train for my next running challenge, and set up my business by the sea. The initial rollout will be coaching for running, triathlons, and strength training, with the end goal of turning my farm back in Ireland into a wellness retreat.

I don't regret trying out London a second time because I believe it was worthwhile trying under different circumstances. Just because it hasn't worked out the way I imagined doesn't mean it's a failure.



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