City Stress Rankings – Hawaii No Ka ‘Oi

I’m grateful today for this article on stress in America, A) because it’s interesting and, B) the opening line speaks perfectly to my recent decision to move . . .

State Stress Levels: The Most-Stressed U.S. States And Cities

Posted: 05/22/13 EDT  |  Updated: 05/22/13 EDT

If you need to de-stress, you could add some cardio, try meditation — or move to Hawaii.

No surprise, that’s the least stressful place in the U.S. to live, according to a Gallup-Healthways survey on daily stress levels released last month. Hawaii has held this spot since Gallup started measuring daily stress in 2008. The map below shows stress levels by state, based on the percent of residents who experienced stress “yesterday” on different days during 2012.

Some of the most-stressed states are located in the Northeast, where there are plenty of cities filled with their own urban stressors. Our map also shows the nation’s 15 most stressful cities, ranked by a 2011 Forbes study that analyzed data on wellbeing measures such as unemployment, cost of living, population density, traffic, air quality and more. California is home to five of these cities, but sunny weather and some of the highest numbers of per-capita yoga studios may help keep city traffic and housing costs from dragging the state down.


There are countless personal and societal factors that can contribute to stress, and financial stressors are some of the most discussed. Two of the most-stressed states are West Virginia and Kentucky, where around 19 percent of people live in poverty. On the other hand, stress levels tend to be lower in the Deep South, where poverty levels are among the country’s highest.

And from Forbes . . .

America’s Most Stressful Cities

So much for California dreaming: By our measure, five out of America’s 15 most stressful cities are in the Golden State, where residents contend with a wicked brew of job woes, high costs of living, traffic congestion and poor air quality.

Los Angeles tops our list, but New Yorkers should stop snickering, as their city comes in second, followed by Chicago, which comes in third. The Big Apple has the least affordable housing in the U.S., the most extreme population density and the highest cost of living—a mass of stresses tempered only by its current unemployment rate, 8.6%, which, while high, remains below the national average of 9.1%.

Washington D.C. and San Diego rank fourth and fifth, respectively.

Behind the Numbers

To come up with our rankings, we analyzed quality-of-life data from the 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and as used by the U.S. Census Bureau. For financial indicators, we looked at unemployment rates for July, and because it’s not only a lack of employment that causes anxiety but also too much of it, average weekly working hours as reported by the Census Bureau in April. We also factored in housing affordability, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index for the second quarter, and cost of living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Because air quality plays a role in mental wellbeing, we looked at the number of days per year with dangerous ozone levels, using the American Lung

Association’s State of the Air 2011 report, which is based in part on data supplied by the Environmental Protection Agency. We also took into account traffic congestion data from the 2010 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute; 2010 Census numbers on population density; and cities’ historic average of sunny days, as recorded by the National Climate Data Center.

Who’s Stressed Out and Why

“We can’t stand uncertainty, and feel enormously stressed when we feel out of control,” says Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute, based in Atlanta. “A lot of that comes from finances, especially right now. But even if you’re employed, you’re working tremendously long hours—or worrying that you might be next.” Traffic congestion and long commutes are also serious anxiety producers she says, adding, “Commuters can experience greater stress than fighter pilots in battle.”

That all certainly applies to Los Angeles—home to a whopping 12.3% unemployment rate, the third least affordable housing of the cities we looked at and a cost-of-living index of 135 (on a scale where the national average is set at 100), putting it sixth-highest in the country. In addition to its financial troubles, L.A. has a host of environmental worries: the highest ozone levels in the country and the third-worst traffic congestion. But it does have at least one bright spot to balance that all out: an average of 266 sunny days a year.

In Pictures: America’s Most Stressful Cities

The nation’s capital, meanwhile, has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, plus a high cost of living.

The biggest surprise? Seattle, coming in at number 10. The fair-trade, organic, indie-rocker city may not be a total utopia after all, considering these factors: It ranks eighth among our cities for housing unaffordability, has the 8th worst traffic congestion (forcing commuters to lose 44 hours a year), a cost of living index that tops that of both Chicago and Miami, and a mere 157 possible sunny days a year, making it the gloomiest city on our list.

Cities may be a source of angst, with urban dwellers experiencing a higher rate of mood and anxiety disorders, according to a study published in the June issue of the journal Nature, but Hall says the urban crush can have positive aspects. “In cities you have more physical contact, so for some people that actually is more comforting,” she says, while rural life can be isolating. “The only thing that matters,” she concludes, “is your state of mind.”


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