The latest Stress in America™ survey shows that stress levels for people living in Washington, D.C.,* are consistent with national levels. But more D.C. residents than adults overall say they manage their stress well and on average, people living in the district appear to be more satisfied than others across the country with the health care they receive.

*This 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; 2012 n=228) and the general population (2008 n=1791; 2009 n=1568; 2010 n=1134; 2011 n=1226; 2012 n=2020).
Perceptions of stress and its sources

Though D.C. residents report a declining average stress level, it is consistent with the national average and exceeds what they believe to be a healthy level of stress.

People living in the D.C. area report an average stress level of 5.0 on a 10-point scale where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is a “great deal of stress.” This represents its lowest level since 2008 (2008: 6.0; 2009: 5.6; 2010 and 2011: 5.3).

Despite this decline, adults in D.C. still report stress levels that are consistent with national levels (4.9) and far higher than what they perceive to be a healthy level of stress — 3.7 on a 10-point scale. Likewise, 37 percent of D.C.-area adults say their stress has increased in the past year.

Like elsewhere in the country, commonly reported sources of stress for D.C.-area residents are work (73 percent vs. 65 percent nationally), money (68 percent vs. 69 percent nationally) and the economy (57 percent vs. 61 percent nationally).

Managing stress

Stress Management SuccessWhile D.C. residents appear to be improving their ability to reduce stress, they still report a disconnect between the importance they place on stress management and their ability to reach stress management goals.

Even though 64 percent of D.C.-area residents say managing stress is extremely or very important, only 43 percent report doing an excellent or very good job at it. The good news is that the number achieving stress management goals is up from 39 percent in 2011 and 34 percent in 2010.

Of those in D.C. who have tried to reduce their stress over the past five years, more this year say they have been successful (28 percent in 2012 vs. 22 percent in 2011).

The most commonly reported stress management techniques for people living in the D.C. area include exercising or walking (52 percent), listening to music (45 percent) and reading (40 percent).

People living in D.C. are similar to those living elsewhere in the country in their beliefs that psychologists can help a great deal or a lot with stress management (49 percent vs. 47 percent), and they are just as likely as Americans overall to say that they have been referred to a mental health provider (12 percent for both).

Stress and well-being

Despite personal beliefs that they are in fairly good health, many D.C. residents report engaging in unhealthy behaviors due to stress, and many report challenges in trying to achieve healthy living goals.

D.C. residents are more likely than Americans overall to say they are in excellent or very good health (44 percent vs. 40 percent).

However, D.C. residents engage in unhealthy behaviors because of stress. Thirty-four percent report skipping meals and 34 percent report overeating or eating unhealthy foods due to stress.

Despite the importance D.C.-area residents place on various aspects of well-being, they appear to struggle to meet healthy living goals, like others across the country:

  • Sixty-three percent say getting enough sleep is extremely or very important, yet just 31 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at it.
  • Sixty-three percent say that eating healthy is extremely or very important, yet just 32 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job.
  • Sixty-one percent say being physically active or fit is extremely or very important, yet just 28 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job.
Health, lifestyle and behavior change

D.C. residents who decided to or who were recommended to make a lifestyle or behavior change most commonly report that a lack of willpower and a lack of time are barriers to change.

Support from Health Care ProviderThe most common barriers to change for D.C.-area residents who decided to or who were recommended to make a lifestyle or behavior change are a lack of willpower (34 percent) and a lack of time (27 percent).

In D.C., adults report receiving health care more often than do adults nationally, and they also give the health care they receive a higher grade than Americans overall. They also report that their health care providers support them more frequently in helping them make lifestyle changes.

More than half (56 percent) of D.C.-area residents visit a health care provider three or more times per year, compared to 41 percent of Americans overall.

Thirty-eight percent of D.C.-area residents give their health care an “A” grade, compared to 31 percent nationwide.

Thirty-seven percent say their health care provider supports them a great deal or a lot when it comes to making desired lifestyle and behavior changes, compared to 29 percent of adults nationally.

Forty-nine percent of D.C. residents say having discussions about lifestyle and behavior changes with their health care provider is extremely or very important to them (compared to 42 percent of Americans overall), and 35 percent say these discussions happen often or always (compared to 28 percent nationally).