Sun, But No Fun: Living in Santa Monica is Stressful

Santa Monica

Pacific Coast Highway at sunset

A RECENT STUDY, published by The Movoto Real Estate Blog, ranked the “10 most stressed out suburbs in America,” and Santa Monica, California came in at number two. Surprising, to say the least. When one thinks of living close to the beach, especially in a picturesque seaside town like Santa Monica, words like surfing, sailing, or relaxing come to mind. But stressing? I would assume a rainy town like Seattle or a city like Barrow, Alaska, known for its annual temperature of 11.7 degrees F, would be a more stressful habitat. So how, with all of the palm trees and sunshine, can this interesting paradox be true?

The study focused on data collected from different sources and research taken from 137 suburbs across the country that documented a laundry list of criteria. And apparently, all that California sunshine seems to be covering up a whole host of stress inducers that are hiding beneath the surface, like Botox masking wrinkles.

The most obvious cause of stress in Los Angeles is traffic. The city is practically synonymous with congested, soul-sucking commuting and, in fact, it’s ranked the number-one U.S. city with the worst traffic. And if you’ve ever been in Santa Monica riding along PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, for all you non-Angelenos) around the sunset hour, then you’ve experienced the utterly unique hell that is standstill traffic, which could make even Gandhi on Zoloft lose his cool. But take one glance at that breathtaking ocean, remind yourself “Gosh, the weather is just perfect today,” and voila, everything is fine! Herein suggests a common coping mechanism for many Angelinos’ stress of rotting in the car on a daily basis. So: what else is there to stress about?

Cost of living, for one. Los Angeles housing, as a whole, is unaffordable for almost half of the population. And procuring digs in a desirable neighborhood like Santa Monica means you might have to break the bank to rent even the smallest apartment. In another study done by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, a large number of households in Los Angeles are spending more than 30% of their paychecks on housing. And although residents are paying less rent than cities like San Francisco or New York, it still amounts to the same when you consider that Los Angeles residents’ median incomes are lower. And on top of that, the state of California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 7.4%. It’s no wonder the homeless population continues to grow, especially in and around the beach towns. Are you stressed yet?

Another indicator frequently used in studies gauging stress like these is population density. Santa Monica’s population of 84,084 people has a population density of 10,178 per square mile. That’s a lot of people sardined together within a roughly eight mile radius. But, once again, taking a look out into the sprawling ocean and the cloudless sky filled with lots of sunshine, and the feelings of claustrophobia will dissipate.

I guess Los Angeles is just like any other major city that has dozens of problems that cause stress, with a few of its own local worries. There’s the ongoing drought, earthquakes, staggering gun violence, and those loud police and media helicopters circling the skies at all times. And don’t forget the stress placed on vanity that emphasizes the importance of achieving the perfect body and maintaining a clean diet. It’s a wonder anyone continues to live here without totally losing it. This might explain why California has the highest population of therapists per capita in the country.

Maybe the perfect weather that California is known for does create an illusion that stress doesn’t exist in Los Angeles. There are no drastic season changes, the palm trees never die, and the constant state of sunshine can make it appear that stress in Los Angeles is as a foreign as snow — especially to non-residents. But just like any major, congested mecca, there are myriad stressors that can disrupt the most beautiful day and chase the sun away. Perhaps everyone in Los Angeles is more stressed than they think. They’re just hiding their anxieties behind the flawless background.

And in case you were wondering, coming in at number one as the most stressed suburb, was Miami, FL. So now that the carefree reputations of America’s most popular beach cities seem to be in peril, don’t be surprised when Barrow, Alaska becomes a new vacation spot.

Images Credit: Flickr/Eric Demarcq

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