MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
First, though, we want to know if you could quantify your stress on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the highest level of stress possible, what would it be? We sent out our intern, Alex Platis, to pose that question to Washingtonians in China Town, last week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
Monday through Friday, a nine.
MR. ALEX PLATIS
It might scale back a little bit to about a four.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
A two, four, five, it depends.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2
I would say a 10.
Okay, so those numbers were sort of all over the place, which makes us wonder, can stress actually be quantified in a measurable, trackable sort of way? Well, the folks at the American Psychological Association definitely think so. Each year, they release a survey about stress in D.C. and this year's report came out just a few weeks ago.
They found our cities average stress level to be 5.3 on a scale of 10. And they say Washingtonians reported feeling overwhelmed because of stress more than people in other parts of the country. I wanted to find out more so I headed down to the APA's offices near Union Station to talk with psychologist Lynn Bufka. She says the definition of stress is different for each of us.
MS. LYNN BUFKA
When we think about it psychologically, we're really thinking about -- stress is when your capacity to cope with demands placed on you is exceeded. You no longer have the resources to cope with the demands and that's what we think about as stress more technically. But the kinds of things that might stress me out could be very different from what might stress out my neighbor. But we have some big categories. Finances are certainly going to be a concern.
MS. LYNN BUFKA
You know, if you don't have the basics to live your life, there's going to be some stress involved. If you don't have adequate housing, if you're not able to provide for your family, some degree of social support, most people find to be beneficial. And so conflict in that arena or not having social connections and support could be a source of stress.
I saw that you compared a lot of different places in the country in terms of how stressed out they are. So how stressed out are we in D.C.?
D.C. is not out of line with the rest of the country in terms of average stress, what's reported as stress. Universally, respondents were telling us, across the country, including in D.C., that they were more stressed than what they thought was healthy. So D.C. residents definitely looked stressed, but D.C. residents have a few things that buffer them from some stress. The federal government is a major employer so as long as the government is still employing, then all the subcontractors may not feel the hit of the economy in quite the same way that other parts of the country do.
Certainly, it's a source of concern and stress, but it doesn't seem to be quite as problematic. But on the flip side of that, D.C. is also an area that's known for how we define ourselves in relationship to work. And so work is go, go, go, go, go. And that might be an increase stressor for D.C. residents compared, to, say, people in Denver where there's more of a relaxed vibe, known for that outdoor, you know, when work ends you go out and you play. You don't take work home and spend all your time on your Blackberry.
And that's exactly the next thing I wanted to ask you about. How can we deal with stress? I'm taking notes.
Yeah, good. I think my mother would tell me to take my own advice as well. We definitely need to figure out ways to unplug. I know, for me, I try very hard not to check email when I go home, to let work sit elsewhere. If one doesn't step away from it from time to time, take care of oneself, get adequate sleep, exercise, socialize, just do nothing, there's a likelihood of burnout. And then we have to look at our lives and see if there's places that we do have some control over that we can make some changes.
We can set some limits, set some boundaries. We don't have to say yes to every great project handed to us or agree to take on every volunteer opportunity that we're asked to take on or to work out carpools so we're not always the one responsible for getting children somewhere. There's a lot of ways that we can limit our responsibilities that sometimes we don't think about doing, that then allows us time to perhaps do nothing or return to an activity that was enjoyable, but we've let fall by the wayside, whether it's reading a book or picking up a craft or spending time outside.
Well, thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me about this.
Sure, it was my pleasure.
That was psychologist Lynn Bufka, talking with me at the offices of the American Psychological Association here in D.C. And we want to know how stress affects your life. You can send us a note firstname.lastname@example.org.
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