There are any number of wonderful things about living in the greater DMV area, from the diversity of people and cultures to the free museums. Nevertheless, when real estate blog Movato took a look at stress levels across American cities, Washington DC came out right on top (1).
1. The High Cost of Living in Washington DC
While there is a great deal of money concentrated in the DC area, there is also a great deal of expense. Rent or mortgages comprise a much greater percentage of one’s income than they would in another area, leaving many people stressed about stretching the remaining dollars. This strain, although ubiquitous, is by no means felt equally across the population – Washington has one of the worst income disparities in the country. (2)
2. Washington DC Politics
Living in the heart of our government has some benefits, but it also means that political strife is felt more acutely than elsewhere. People in Washington DC are passionate about their political leanings; many have dedicated their careers to them in one form or another. This makes the ebbs and flows of power particularly difficult for our residents, whose professional success as well as personal values can be connected to political outcomes. It also makes it difficult for DC citizens to feel that we are a part of an integrated whole community that shares our most basic values.
3.The Transience of Washington DC
Washington is known for the rapid flow of people moving in and out. This means that support systems are unstable and prone to disruption. As soon as you’ve established some friendships, those people find opportunities elsewhere and move away. Many people living in DC describe feeling like they are constantly readjusting to life without someone. Even the sudden absence of neighbors and acquaintances can leave people feeling rootless and adrift.
4. The Washington DC Commute
The Washington DC area has one of the longest commutes in the country (3), and commuting is horrible for people. Many people describe feeling trapped in their cars, uncomfortable and frustrated with other drivers. Long commuting times also cut into the amount of time available to spend in other ways – with family and friends or on fulfilling hobbies. So, we lose two ways. As of this writing we have yet to see how COVID-19 and the rise of telework may impact commuting, but the change would have to be quite substantial in order for commuting to stop being a major factor in DC quality of life.
5. Washington DC Work Culture
In between our commutes, of course, we work. As the seat of government DC attracts the many of the best and brightest. Unfortunately, that also means that work culture can be highly competitive, in the negative sense. This type of work culture feeds on itself; being in a competitive environment makes you feel competitive, and as such you also participate in creating a competitive work culture. In many DC professions, such as law firms, working up to ten or twelve hours a day is more the rule than the exception. Many DC workers are also expected to be continuously available, leading to difficulty unplugging and feeling that you aren’t on call.
Dealing with the Stress of Living in Washington DC
Living in Washington DC doesn’t have to mean you are destined to be plagued by stress – but you do have to be more proactive about maintaining your calm. I frequently refer to the book, Peaceful Places in Washington DC to find calm places, both in nature and in the heart of the city. It’s also important to work to find some stability in your support systems, whether this means keeping in good touch after people move away or putting concerted effort into continuously finding new connections. Learning tools for managing anxiety, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can be helpful as well.
Some of the issues DC has, like the competitive work culture, can be ameliorated if enough people get on board. The first step is acknowledging the stress that we are all under just from living here; the next is taking good care of ourselves so that we can start to create a community that feels better to be in.