Stress in Washington, DC

Despite the fact that Washington, DC-area residents* continued to report lower stress levels than in recent years, this decline did not translate to an increase in reports of good or excellent health. In fact, more residents of the DC metropolitan area reported they had been diagnosed with health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in 2010 than in 2009. Despite the increase in reported health diagnoses, DC-area residents were slightly more likely to say they exercise regularly than Americans overall and to routinely eat a healthy diet.

Managing Stress in a Poor Economy

Though adults in the DC area report that money, work and the economy are their primary sources of stress, residents continue to report steady declines in stress over the past few years.

  • On average, Washington, DC-area residents reported a stress level of 5.3 on a 10-point scale, lower than levels reported in 2009 (5.6) and 2008 (6.0). This level is still higher, however, than what DC-area residents report a “healthy” level of stress to be (3.6). 

  • Approximately two out of three DC-area residents cite money (72 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (67 percent) as very or somewhat significant causes of stress. However, considerably more residents report money and the economy as a source of stress this year compared with last year (60 percent cited money and 56 percent cited the economy as sources of stress in 2009). 

  • The percentage of DC-area adults reporting that their stress has increased over the past five years has been steadily falling (53 percent in 2008, 47 percent in 2009 and 40 percent this year). 

  • DC-area residents are more likely to cite the economy as a cause this year than they did in 2009 (67 percent, up from 56 percent). However, these figures are in line with the national average. 

  • The majority of DC-area residents (62 percent) report that they are doing enough to manage their stress, which exceeds what Americans in general report (55 percent of adults say they are doing enough to manage stress).

Stress and Personal Health

Fewer DC-area residents rated their health as excellent/very good in 2010 than in 2009 (40 percent vs. 49 percent), and despite remaining below the national average, more DC-area residents report being in fair/poor health than in 2009 (14 percent vs. 11 percent). This trend may be cause for concern for residents of the Washington, DC, area, as those rating their health as fair/poor are more likely to report physical symptoms of stress. Indeed, the percentage of DC-area residents reporting a diagnosis of specific chronic health problems has increased and is higher than the national average.

  • More than one-third of adults report having been told they have high cholesterol (36 percent) or high blood pressure (35 percent), up from about one-quarter last year (25 percent reported high blood pressure in 2009, and 28 percent reported high cholesterol). The percentage who reported a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes has nearly doubled from 7 percent last year to 13 percent in 2010. 

  • At least four in 10 DC-area residents report having been told by a health care provider that they need to exercise more (45 percent) or lose weight (41 percent). Three in 10 have been told to switch to a healthier diet (30 percent).

Making the kinds of lifestyle changes that lead to lasting improvements in physical and mental health is never easy. DC-area residents are less likely than Americans overall to report that a lack of confidence that they can successfully change their behavior prevents them from making lifestyle and behavior changes recommended by their health care provider. Additionally, four in 10 say that nothing prevents them from making lifestyle and behavior changes recommended by their health care provider. They are increasingly less likely to report stress as a barrier preventing them from making changes but nearly a quarter report that they don’t have time to make the lifestyle and behavior changes that a health care provider has recommended. Regardless, DC-area residents are just as likely as other Americans to report physical symptoms as a result of stress.

  • DC-area residents are less likely to report stress as a reason for failing to make lifestyle changes than they were last year (7 percent vs. 21 percent).

  • Adults in the DC area are less likely than Americans overall to say the reason they haven’t made changes has to do with a lack of confidence (6 percent vs. 14 percent).

  • 40 percent say nothing is preventing them from making changes, which is more than the percentage of those who report a lack of willpower (31 percent).

  • Despite a perceived lack of barriers to change, DC-area residents are just as likely as other Americans to report lying awake at night (44 percent of DC-area residents and Americans in general say that have lain awake at night in the past month because of stress) and overeating or eating unhealthy foods (42 percent of DC-area residents compared with 40 percent of the general population) because of stress.

  • More than six out of 10 DC-area adults (62 percent) say they exercise regularly (a few times a week or more) — a level slightly above the national average (55 percent).

  • People living in the Washington, DC, area are more likely than Americans overall to say that willpower means being committed to making a change (23 percent vs. 13 percent).

  • When asked to identify what prevents them from doing more to relieve their stress, nearly one-quarter of DC-area residents say that they lack the time or are too busy (22 percent).

  • On every aspect of well-being evaluated in the survey, adults rated its importance higher than their ability to reach that goal, with the highest gap between importance and achievement for managing stress, followed by not getting enough sleep.

Stress and Technology

When asked if being connected to their mobile electronic devices was a source of stress, most DC-area residents did not agree that this is a source of stress.

  • Nearly half disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that texts, phone, e-mail and Internet added to their stress level during the day (48 percent). Only 23 percent agreed or strongly agreed that being “connected” via mobile devices made them feel stressed and overwhelmed.

*This section of the report focuses only on the views of residents within the Washington, DC, MSA (2008 n=250; 2009 n=203; 2010 n=212) and the general population (2008 n=1,791; 2009 n=1,568; 2010 n=1,134).