Stress in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.Washington, D.C.-area* residents report a high level of satisfaction with their lives and with the aspects that contribute to quality of life, such as home life and relationships with family and friends. D.C.-area residents generally believe they are in good health and many have tried to adopt healthier behaviors. They also believe that stress can have a strong or very strong impact on a person’s health. However, the number who believe they are doing enough to manage stress is at its lowest since 2008.

Perception of Stress and Its Sources

Overall, D.C.-area residents report high levels of satisfaction with their lives. D.C.-area residents are also significantly more satisfied with their health, finances and work than those nationwide.

  • D.C.-area residents report an average stress level of 5.3 (on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress), similar to the 5.2 level reported nationally. However, they believe that the optimal stress level is around 3.8.

  • The top three causes of stress are the same for D.C.-area residents and adults nationwide — work, money and the economy.

  • D.C.-area residents are generally more satisfied with their lives (72 percent) than those nationally (66 percent).

  • They are also satisfied with various aspects that contribute to quality of life, such as relationships with family (80 percent), relationships with friends (81 percent) and home environments (79 percent).

  • D.C.-area residents are significantly more satisfied with their health (79 percent) than those nationally (70 percent).

Economic Concerns and Stress

While the top causes of stress for D.C.-area residents is in line with stressors for the rest of the nation — work, money and the economy — issues related to work and finances are of concern to fewer D.C.-area residents than the rest of the nation.

  • Fewer D.C.-area residents say that money is a source of stress than those nationwide (68 percent vs. 75 percent nationally).

  • Compared to those nationally, D.C.-area residents are more likely to be satisfied with their work (69 percent vs. 54 percent nationally) and financial security (56 percent vs. 44 percent nationally).

Stress and Well-Being

The majority of D.C.-area residents believe that they are in good health, and they are generally proactive in adopting healthier behaviors. D.C.-area residents also agree that lifestyle choices and stress can have a strong or very strong impact on a person’s health. Further, they agree that stress can contribute to the development of disease.

  • About 42 percent of D.C.-area residents believe they are in very good or excellent health, similar to the national average of 41 percent.

  • Most D.C.-area residents exercise on a regular basis, with 62 percent exercising more than once a week.

  • The majority of D.C.-area residents agree that lifestyle factors can have a strong impact on health, particularly obesity (91 percent), drug use (90 percent) and stress (83 percent).

  • D.C.-area residents believe that stress can have a stronger impact on their mental health (37 percent strong/very strong impact) than their physical health (29 percent).

  • Almost all D.C.-area residents (97 percent) agree that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, and a majority believe that it can make existing problems worse (81 percent).

  • Interestingly, D.C.-area residents are significantly more likely than the general population to believe that stress can be beneficial in terms of providing drive and energy to get through certain situations (87 percent in the D.C.-area vs. 77 percent nationally).

  • About 85 percent of D.C.-area residents believe that chronic stress is treatable with therapy or medication.

  • Almost half (48 percent) of D.C.-area residents report having been irritable or angry at least once in the past month due to stress. Additionally, many report having been nervous/ anxious (38 percent), fatigued (35 percent) and depressed/ sad (36 percent) in the last month due to stress.

  • More so than nationally, D.C.-area residents feel overwhelmed as a result of stress (40 percent vs. 34 percent nationally).

  • The top three changes that D.C.-area residents have tried to make in the last 5 years include eating healthier (87 percent), exercising more (82 percent) and losing weight (72 percent).

  • When making changes to their health, the top two strategies for D.C. residents are preparing a plan of action (25 percent) and recognizing barriers to succeeding (25 percent).

  • Yet, they are still less successful than the general public in making certain changes, such as getting more sleep (29 percent vs. 36 percent nationally).

Managing Stress

Many D.C.-area residents are using a variety of techniques to manage their stress. Although more than half of D.C.-area residents (54%) believe they can gauge when they are stressed, they do not believe that they are good at preventing or managing that stress.

  • About 56 percent of D.C.-area residents believe they are doing enough to manage stress, the lowest level since 2008 (62 percent in 2010, 61 percent in 2009 and 58 percent in 2008).

  • Although 54 percent of D.C.-area residents say they do an excellent or very good job of recognizing when they are stressed, only about 26 percent believe they are doing an excellent or very good job of managing stress when they experience it.

  • D.C.-area residents are significantly less likely to have reduced their stress levels (22 percent) compared to those nationally (38 percent), but they are significantly more likely to still be working to reduce stress (73 percent) than their national counterparts (52 percent).

  • For stress management methods, D.C.-area residents are most likely to listen to music (55 percent), exercise (55 percent) and read (48 percent). They also try to focus on the positive (52 percent) and avoid people and situations that trigger stress (50 percent).

  • Sixty percent of D.C.-area residents believe that a psychologist can help them cope with mental health issues, and 46 percent believe that a psychologist can help them with stress management.

Barriers to Change

For D.C.-area residents, the greatest barriers to change are time and willpower.

  • About 31 percent of D.C.-area residents believe that a lack of time has prevented them from making desired or recommended health changes, compared to 26 percentnationally. Another 30 percent of D.C.-area residents indicated that a lack of willpower is the main barrier.

  • While the number of D.C.-area residents citing willpower as a barrier is consistent with last year’s numbers (30 percent in 2011 vs. 31 percent in 2010), there is an increase in the proportion who believe that lack of time is a barrier (31 percent in 2011 vs. 23 in percent 2010).

  • Most D.C. residents believe that willpower can be learned, similar to those nationally (74 percent in the D.C.-area vs. 71 percent nationally). Lack of willpower is generally defined as giving in to temptation (44 percent in the D.C.- area vs. 39 percent nationally) or not being disciplined enough to make changes (34 percent in the D.C.-area vs. 27 percent nationally).

  • For those who believe that willpower is a barrier to making lifestyle changes, internal changes required to increase willpower include more confidence in their ability to make a change (46 percent) and more energy (45 percent). The most important external change to increase willpower is more flexibility over when, where and how much they work (38 percent).

  • This need for flexibility over when, where or how much to work is more pronounced for D.C.-area residents than for Americans overall (38 percent vs. 21 percent nationally).


* This section of the report focuses only on the views of residents within the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Statistical Area (2008 n=250; 2009 n=203; 2010 n=212; 2011 n=262) and the general population (2008 n=1,791; 2009 n=1,568; 2010 n=1,134; 2011 n=1,226).