Stress is a natural part of the human experience. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, job loss, school or work-related anxiety, buying a house, selling a house, rent being due, performance evaluations - these are just a few sources of stress, and they happen to nearly all of us at some point in our lives.
Psychologists say stress isn't always a bad thing: "A little bit of stress, known as 'acute stress,' can be exciting - it keeps us active and alert." One is reminded of the stress of competing in an Olympic event.
However, according to science, the real issue comes with chronic stress. When one doesn't experience relief - when that 'good' acute stress doesn't dissipate - then our bodies are flooded with glucocorticoids (stress hormones) regularly, and we fall prey to health concerns that range from problematic to deadly.
According to a new study, this kind of stress is more likely if you live in certain cities. In fact, researchers determined that these are the most stressed out cities in the country:
10. Montgomery, AL
9. Newark, NJ
8. New Orleans, LA
7. Columbus, GA
6. Shreveport, LA
5. Cleveland, OH
4. Memphis, TN
3. Birmingham, AL
2. Mobile, AL
And the most stressful place to live in the United States:
The researchers evaluated 150 cities across the country, measuring 27 key metrics. These included things like city inhabitants' average divorce rate, debt load, suicide rate, credit score, and average number of work hours.
This resulted in scores for each city in five primary categories: work-related stress, money-related stress, family-related stress, health & safety-related stress, and coping with stress. In other words, the stress level of each city included major stressors as well as how well inhabitants did at coping with that stress.
It is perhaps no surprise that the most stressful part of the country to live in is the South.
Money is, by far, the biggest stressor. In another similar study, the poverty rate in 17 of the 25 most stressed cities was higher than the national rate, which is 15.5%. This is certainly true for Detroit. The American Psychological Association also states that those in poverty are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors to manage stress.
The APA has found that in the U.S., experiencing discrimination is a major significant of stress. A full 61% of American adults report being regularly harassed, threatened, or treated less respectfully than others. Close to 50% also report more significant forms of discrimination, including unfair treatment by law enforcement officials, harassment by neighbors, or personal difficulties with teachers or advisers.
As for the least stressed cities, one state boasted a full half of the list of the top ten: California. San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Irvine, and Fremont were all on it (non-California cities included Honolulu and Madison, Wisconsin).
While some stress is unavoidable, we should also all keep in mind that we are partly at choice when it comes to how stressed we get. Running late to a meeting, for example, can feel extremely stressful, but the reality is it's not the same kind of stress as having a relative stay with you because s/he was just evicted.
Science has repeatedly shown that stress is directly connected to lower productivity in the workplace, depression, and even premature death. Psychologist Lynn Bufka says, "Feeling stressed and overwhelmed diminishes our mental resources, diminishes our capacity to be flexible mentally, [and] diminishes our ability to generate new ideas."
Don't wait to manage your stress. If you're able to, go for that run or walk. Call a friend. Take that bath. Start that meditation practice. If you're in a position to, quit that stressful job.
And if all else fails, move to California.