Washington is a stressed-out city. We worry about money, jobs, family. We’re spending more time on BlackBerrys and less time sleeping. Area drivers spend 62 hours—about 2½ days—stuck in traffic each year, and our 33-minute average commute is one of the country’s longest.
Those who have little control over their schedules and who perform mostly repetitive tasks report the highest stress levels. That means an assistant may be more stressed than the boss. People who exercise, have close friends, and pray suffer less stress than those who don’t.
We talked to 23 Washingtonians—from a Buddhist leader to a police sniper to a stay-at-home mom—to find out what stresses them out and how they deal with it. We found a Pilates-loving CEO and a broadcast journalist who swears by meditation. And we asked all of them to take our quiz so we could see how their stress scores compared. While everybody’s coping strategy is different, one thing is clear: We all need to learn how to relax.
Stress score: 15
My stress: In the news business, every day is different, so it requires infinite adaptability and flexibility. That’s difficult when you’re the mother of three-year-old twins and a two-year-old.
How I cope: The way I’m able to balance it all is my support team—my husband, my nanny, my au pair, my parents, Geoff’s parents. At work I have a producer who’s assigned to me. I’m able to manage by delegating and learning to trust people.
Seven weeks after I had my third child, Riley, I came back from maternity leave for the Democratic convention because I didn’t want to miss it. It was gut-wrenching to think, “Is it wrong of me to leave my seven-week-old at home so I can go to work?” But I flew off to Denver and I took my breast pump with me and pumped between shows. The NBC page who was assigned to me at the convention turns to me in one of the final days and says, “Is there anything else you need, Norah?” And I said, “Yes, I need you to figure out how to ship my breast milk home.” I will rely on anybody for anything.
I have a real issue with the phrase “balance work and family.” It leaves women feeling guilty. It suggests that there are scales of justice where it’s even—work gets this much, family gets this much, and it’s equal. The truth is you will spend less time with your children than you do at work. And that hurts me when I say it, but it’s true. In my case, it’s 10 to 12 hours a day working and maybe an hour a day with my children.
When I’m stressed, I think about a moment when we were on vacation. We were with some friends and we anchored the boat, jumped into the ocean, and swam to a beach. I lay on the hot sand and thought, “Capture and remember this moment; think about it when you get really stressed out.”