For residents of Washington, D.C., stress is practically a way of life. This is the capital of the most important country on Earth, and something is always going on. People are always rushing around, and working late is practically a job requirement for many of the careers here. The traffic is terrible, thanks in part to D.C.’s notoriously complicated street layout. It’s hot, it’s crowded, it’s busy, and it’s stressful, stressful, stressful.
And that’s not good for your mental health. Stress is bad for us: It can weaken us and make us vulnerable to all sorts of mental and physical health conditions. Some studies show that it can even shorten our lives. The most common forms of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders, can be brought on, revealed, or worsened by stress. Put simply, stress is a big no-no for our health — yet, here in Washington, we’re practically swimming in it.
But what can you do? Do you have to move out of town to live a healthy, normal life? Not necessarily. What you can do instead is take stock of your D.C. lifestyle, examine the ways in which it may be hurting your mental (and physical) health, and take meaningful measures to solve the problems. Let’s take those steps one by one.
Take a good look at your D.C. lifestyle
When everyone is living like you are, it’s easy to feel like you’re normal and healthy. But if you’re living the D.C. lifestyle, you’re not necessarily normal and you’re definitely not being healthy. This is an intense city, and staying mentally healthy takes work, conviction, and a willingness to go against the grain.
Careers in Washington are notoriously competitive, and everyone is trying to get ahead. But if you’re always trying to outhustle the competition, you’re going to put yourself at risk of burnout. Burnout is a real mental health condition that can be brought on by a lack of work-life balance. It can ultimately lead to depression, anxiety, and other common mental health conditions.
Think about your commute, too. Are you stressed out every morning and every afternoon? If so, that’s not good. Those little angry moments behind the wheel add up. We’re not living in the stone age, so why are you setting your heart racing like you’re running from a lion every morning? That’s going to age you and hurt your mental health.
Commuting and working all of the time means that you’re always on the run, which means you may not have time to physically run or do anything else for exercise. It’s important, however, to make time. Your work is important, but you need to care for your body. The same thing goes for your diet: If you don’t have time to cook, then you need to examine your work-life balance. Eating takeout all of the time is generally really bad for you. And because poor nutrition and lack of exercise will both affect your mood and your mental health, this is really important stuff.
Your home matters, too. It’s expensive living here in Washington, so don’t turn your pricey home into a place that makes you miserable. Set boundaries, and try not to let your work invade your private spaces (and your private time). Be especially defensive of your bedroom: You need it for good sleep!
Speaking of sleep, few things matter more to your overall mental and physical health than the sleep that you’re getting (or not getting). Make a point of going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. Keep your bedroom quiet and dark, and avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
Finally, you should take a look at your mental health care routine. You visit your doctor regularly for physical checkups, but are you caring for your mental health in the same way? You should be, say expert therapists in DC, especially in a place as stressful as our nation’s capital. Being proactive about your mental health care can make a world of difference, so take steps in the right direction to help you improve the quality of your life.