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Washington, DC — America’s Stress Capital

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Washington, DC and its surrounding metro areas are home to a diverse workforce of government and military contractors, government employees, private-sector executives, lawyers, and other professionals whose work lives can be exceptionally demanding. Whether self-driven to climb the organizational ladder or simply doing what it takes to maintain high-paying jobs that support the high cost of living, many of the area’s professionals work more hours than usual and are under tremendous pressure to succeed.Unsurprisingly, the nation’s capital and its surroundings frequently rank high on lists of the most stressful areas in the country. In 2018, the Movoto real estate blog ranked Washington, DC Stress Capital of America—it wasn’t the first time. 

Work Stress

“Our nation’s capital is home to countless politicians and their staff who, all jokes and jeers aside, actually do have pretty stressful jobs when you really think about it. However, the city is also home to countless normal people just going about their normal-profile lives, working at normal jobs, and, as it turns out, being exposed to supernormal levels of stress.”

One of the categories in the Movoto article was “hours worked.” 

“For all the cracks about politicians never really working, it turns out that the more than 601,000 people who call DC home are putting in plenty of hours on the job. The city came in third for this category, with residents working an average of 40.1 hours a week. That’s not even the top-end, but the average.”

Commute time was another big factor in DC’s placement at the top of this ranking. The rest of the stats were all consistently high enough for the city’s average score to put it on top as America’s stress capital.

Consultants, executives, lawyers, medical doctors, and other professionals usually embrace a strong work ethic. This positive quality can easily escalate into perfectionism and workaholism.

Workaholics Anonymous?

“Workaholism, which describes working both excessively and compulsively, is associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes such as depression and sleep disorders. Workaholism is also known to be associated with both perfectionism and narcissism,” wrote Eric Dolan last year on PsyPost

“Workaholics … are obsessed with their work performance and hooked on an adrenalin-high. Bent on self-aggrandizement, these ego-driven folks reach one goal and immediately set another more ambitious one,” wrote Barbara Killinger, Ph.D. in Psychology Today in 2011.

The controller-type workaholic craves “the kind of power that allows them to always be in control. These independent and proud individuals are often arrogant and intense but can be most charming, witty, and appear sociable when it serves their purpose,” wrote Dr. Killinger. “They can be impatient, impulsive, and demanding, and tend to be strong thinking-type personalities who are usually found in top management positions or are self-employed. Controllers, comfortable in goal-directed activities but less so in social situations, find personal friendships hard to maintain. Many have business-related acquaintances, but few intimate friends.”

Pandemic After Effects

The global COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of stress for professionals. A study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America revealed that 37 percent of executives now work longer hours than they did before the pandemic. (And remember, they already worked longer hours in DC than elsewhere). Furthermore, more than 75 percent also report job-related mental and physical health concerns. Chronic stress, overwork, and anxiety may contribute to burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from extreme, unchecked workplace stress. 

In May, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sounded the alarm on health worker burnout and resignation: “Health workers, including physicians, nurses, community and public health workers, nurse aides, among others, have long faced systemic challenges in the health care system even before the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to crisis levels of burnout.” This burnout effect contributed further to the Washington, DC stress capital title.

Effects of Washington, DC being Stress Capital of the USA

Relentless stress, anxiety, perfectionism, and workaholism are detrimental to both physical and mental health. They are and major drivers of substance use disorder (SUD). Rates of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance use disorders have been increasing in recent years — even before the pandemic. According to Kaiser Family Foundation reporting, people in Washington DC report higher rates of depression and anxiety than national averages. Moreover, more than eight percent of adults in the area experienced a major depressive episode in the last year. Many people who regularly endure high stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. With 9.4 percent of adults reporting alcohol-use-disorder, DC has twice the alcoholism rate as the rest of the nation.

Steffanie Kelshaw, LPC, CSAC, a New Paradigm clinician, sees intersections between stressful lifestyles and behavioral health problems. “Despite the notion that ‘three-martini’ lunches and ‘power-dinners’ are things of the past, it is still quite common for DC-area executives to consume alcohol or other substances while doing business. For some people, drinking during work-related events is a social lubricant that makes it easier to talk to strangers and feel like you are fitting in. For others, substances simply become a crutch used to endure intensely stressful workdays. In either case, the regular and accepted use of alcohol and other substances can easily lead to developing substance use disorders. This process can be pernicious, and people can develop problematic use or addiction before they realize that they have lost the ability to discontinue using voluntarily.”

“Functioning” Addicts

Behavioral health conditions affect every aspect of life and can have far-reaching implications. These include physical health effects, dysfunctional family relationships, risk of physical harm and injury, and even increased risk of trauma. Some individuals are capable of remaining highly functional professionals while experiencing a substance use disorder. Countless elite physicians, athletes, executives, and policymakers can perform exceptionally in the workplace despite other problems. They might experience extreme failure in other aspects of their lives due to untreated substance use disorders.

“We treat many highly successful people who excel in every way in their chosen careers but whose home lives are in complete disarray. It can become easy for some people to use career demands and expectations as an excuse to endure substance use and mental health problems. Some people come to believe that their substance use is a necessary means of doing what it takes to succeed and that its effects on marriages, health, and other areas of life are the costs of financial success or recognition,” says Kelshaw.

Kelshaw and her colleagues at New Paradigm Recovery understand that their clients’ lifestyles may depend on their stress-inducing careers. “We know that most of our clients cannot change their workplace or significantly reduce some of their biggest stressors. However, we can help them recognize the ways that they can make changes in their own lives and perceptions, how to be healthier and more productive by creating appropriate boundaries in their work and home lives, and teach them vital skills that help them reconceptualize and respond to these issues and self-regulate without using substances,” says Kelshaw. 

New Paradigm’s Approach

New Paradigm carefully assesses a full client history and incorporates family members in the process when possible. Additionally, the program offers extensive case management services. These services ensure that all aspects of a client’s continuum of healthcare coordinate around the goals of recovery. 

Located in the Tyson’s Corner area, New Paradigm is an exceptional and comprehensive intensive outpatient resource. New Paradigm transforms lives of individuals and families in the Washington, DC stress capital area with substance use and mental health disorders. The program is especially effective for individuals for whom previous treatment providers were not successful. Importantly, New Paradigm stands out among other providers for taking the time to provide individualized care.  If you or a loved one would like to learn more about our program or discuss treatment, please call us anytime at (703) 214-5888.

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