Why DC is so stressed out, and where to find some peace

Stress can be a healthy motivator or, for many, an emotional and physical grind that can potentially lead to health issues. For those in D.C., stress is probably something that is all too familiar.

In a report published by WalletHub earlier this month, the District ranked 35th on a list of 182 stressed-out U.S. cities.

To determine which cities are coping and which just can’t catch a break, WalletHub factored in 40 key metrics, which included — but were not limited to — traffic congestion, unemployment rate, poverty rate, child care costs and crime rate.

The three cities that topped the list, in order from most stressed to least stressed, were Cleveland, Detroit and Gulfport, Mississippi. The least stressed out city of the bunch, according to WalletHub’s findings, was Fremont, California.

But what are the best ways to decompress in a world that may, at times, seem chaotic?

“Our country as a whole is experiencing a lot of stress,” said Dr. Emily Aron, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and associate professor at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

The go-to coping strategies that Aron recommended included meditation or quick walks outside, “focusing on the breath” in times of stress, and, if struggling, finding a place to discuss stresses while not alone.

“It is a sign of strength to reach out for help,” said Aron.

Cedric Rashaw is a clinical psychotherapist with Hurdle Health, a virtual mental health provider that provides “culturally intentional” therapy.

His recommendation to clients is to “find your peace” by disconnecting from social media or news outlets. Instead, Rashaw said one can find simple and affordable methods to decompress by getting some fresh air through activities like going into nature or fishing. He also encouraged resilience in the face of adversity.

“Just stick with it, and time heals … I always tell clients [to] look at where you were six months ago or a year. It always tends to get better,” he told WTOP.

Another way to cope with stressful past incidents is using “radical acceptance,” according to Venise Darisme, a licensed professional counselor at The Women’s Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1974 that services over 5,000 people annually at its D.C. and Vienna, Virginia, locations.

Darisme said, “you’re not condoning things that may be contradictory or things that aren’t very healthy,” when engaging in radical acceptance. “You’re just accepting that you can’t change it, that it was in the past, for example.”

A similar affirmation that both Aron and Darisme recommended was, “this too shall pass.”

Where D.C. area residents can go to destress

For those who are seeking area places to escape to in order to find moments of peace, Rashaw recommends Rock Creek Park, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Washington National Cathedral, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the U.S. National Arboretum. Rashaw recommended these spaces for their pleasant, quiet scenery and their long history in the District.

One of Darisme’s favorite locations in D.C. is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Brookland. She said, “[It] is a place of pilgrimage, of peace for people who are spiritual or religious.”

While recommending Theodore Roosevelt Island and the National Gallery of Art, Aron said, “I feel like we’re really lucky in D.C. because there are so many spaces where people can go to reset and get some peace and quiet in nature, even though you’re in the middle of a city.”

Michelle Goldchain

Michelle Goldchain’s reporting has focused primarily on the D.C. area, previously working as Editor of Curbed DC for Vox Media and Audience Growth & Engagement Editor for Washington City Paper. She is the author of "D.C. by Metro: A History & Guide.” She also reports for Artsplained on YouTube.

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