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Americans are stressed out. According to a recent Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans experience stress sometimes or frequently throughout the day. Stress is the body’s natural “fight or flight” reaction when the brain perceives a threat. While this reaction evolved during a time when humans more regularly faced physical threats, the stress that’s most common among individuals today stems from a wide range of non-life-threatening situations.
In the short term, stress can be a motivator to finish a project at work or accomplish a desired goal. In the long term, however, stress can have damaging effects on physical and mental health.
When a stress-inducing stimulus—such as a loud noise, an important presentation at work, or an approaching deadline—appears, the body reacts by secreting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones trigger an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a rush of energy, all of which help boost performance in the face of challenging circumstances. When the stimulus disappears, the body is supposed to return to its state of homeostasis.
While intermittent periods of stress and its effects on the body are normal, stress presents a problem when it becomes the norm. Higher levels of stress correlate to increased health risks and can exacerbate existing medical conditions. People who have chronic stress can experience changes in appetite, an increased risk of heart disease, and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Levels of stress also vary across generations. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2018 study, Gen Z and millennials report the highest levels of stress while Boomers and older adults seem to be the least stressed. Among younger generations, the leading causes of stress include work, money, health, and the economy.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the effects of chronic stress. Having a close-knit community of support can reduce the spikes in stress hormones. Healthy behaviors like good nutrition, exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep have been shown to help the body feel more equipped to deal with stress. Talking to a therapist or mental health counselor is another way to build stress management skills.
For people experiencing chronic stress, a change in environment might also be beneficial. Some communities are more or less prone to stress than others. Being surrounded by less stressed people could also have a positive impact on mental and emotional health.
To find which cities experience the most and the least stress, online tutoring firm HeyTutor analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2017 1-Year Estimates and the CDC 500 Cities Project. For each city, its researchers created a composite stress index based on data related to health, lifestyle, and the economy.
With the exception of poverty and unemployment, which are at historic lows, most of the factors in the score—mental health, economic inequality, housing affordability, and commute times—are largely getting worse, which is creating a more stressed out society as a whole. Despite this, many cities in the U.S. are actually quite conducive to reducing stress. These cities boast more equitable economies and affordable housing. In addition, their residents report strong mental health, sufficient sleep, and a higher proportion of parents remain together.
Here are the most and least stress-out cities in America.