Pressed to De-stress

From Glitz To Back Alleys,
Angelenos Find Ways To Relieve Their Stress

Kahve Azarnoush spends his free time climbing rocks in the parks of Malibu. It’s his way of de-stressing, because when the alarm goes off early in the morning during his work week, Azarnoush has to face some of the worst traffic in the country to get to his job as a freelance production coordinator in Studio City. “Growing up in LA, you deal with a lot of angry drivers and slowly become one of them if you don’t have a way to deal with stress,” Azarnoush said. “If I go on a climbing trip, if I go camping, I really come back feeling better.”

Growing up in LA you deal with a lot of angry drivers, and slowly become one of them if you don’t have a way to deal with stress.”
Kahve Azarnoush, rock climber

Azarnoush is right. The average number of hours he and others lose in LA traffic per year is 128, according to a 2018 study by Interactive Ranking & City Dashboard.

Part of the solution, Azarnoush said, would be to add more green space in the city and in the county. More parks mean more people would be able to “rejuvenate and refresh and just relax.”

Los Angeles city has a total of 632 parks with almost 300,000 acres of land. That’s roughly 1.8 parks for every 10,000 people, according to a 2016 study by the Trust for Public Land.

Sources Of LA stress

Earlier this summer, Los Angeles had the highest percentage of residents who said they were “somewhat stressed” in their daily lives, with Hollywood ranking as the number one location, according to a study OnePoll, a marketing research company specializing in online and mobile polling. Another report, this one from Forbes, cited other stress points in the city.

Los Angeles has a 12.3% unemployment rate, the country’s third least affordable housing, and a high cost of living, according to the Forbes report. On top of all that, the report said, LA has the highest ozone levels in the country and the third-worst traffic congestion in the U.S. Los Angeles ranks as the top city in the United States with the most air pollution, according to a study by the American Lung Association.

Data collected from 60 LA residents in Santa Monica and Hollywood

Art As Therapy

Commuter traffic drives Mayor Margarita L. Rios a bit crazy. “I think the things that probably make me the most anxious is our commuter traffic,” Rios said. “I actually work in Los Angeles so I commute on a daily basis, but I look forward to driving back to Norwalk every day.”

Art is her stress relief.

In Norwalk, Rios said art in public spaces can provide residents with a sense of calm and enjoyment. “Art in public spaces is so important,” Rios said. “We have a healthy program here in the city of Norwalk of art in public spaces.”

One way to raise money for arts is a program that requires new businesses or developers who are interested in the city to deduct a percentage from each investment they make, and use it for the city's Art in Public Places project.

Art can change the world. A simple brushstroke or splash of paint is all it takes to lift spirits or reduce stress. Public art can make a difference on an even larger scale. It can inspire communities and touch lives through beautiful imagery and empowering messages.

Painting The World In Color

“Art heals. Period. Colors make us happy,” says Ruben Rojas, a lifestyle artist and activist. From Los Angeles to Paris, he creates murals to transform communities and change lives.

We followed Rojas around the city, from his Santa Monica studio to his “Spread Your Wings” mural in Norwalk, to learn more about his mission as an artist.

As Rojas says, “We want to end ugly wall syndrome.”

Artist Profiles

Behind each mural is an artist who sparks change through creative expression. In Los Angeles, a graffiti writer inspires his daughters through tagging; a sign painter finds therapy through painting; a muralist experiences catharsis through her work; and an art curator creates community through his artistic haven.

From Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles, these artists brighten streets and brighten moods. Here are their stories.

Please visit this link to download media

Podcasts are really starting to transform that experience of driving into one that allows them to either process their day or listen to something that they might enjoy.”
Quade French, clinical psychologist

Most people already know what to do to ease their stress; they just struggle to find time to commit to something that helps them reduce it, said Quade French, USC clinical psychologist and senior project manager in the Office of Campus Wellbeing in Education.

“I think one of the challenges is that people forget how resilient they can be when confronted with stressors, and it's so often that people know what's best for them already,” French said. “I am starting to run into more and more people now who by virtue of the privilege of being able to listen to podcasts in their cars are really starting to transform that experience of driving into one that allows them to either process their day or listen to something that they might enjoy, like a book or an audio book or something or a podcast.”

Stress Relief For A Price

Cuddle to calm

Cows, goats and hugs. Oh my. You can hug a cow or let a goat walk all over you in a therapeutic yoga session. Or you can hug a stranger. Even though all three are designed to help people find ways to de-stress, they each come with a price tag. For human interaction, people pay a variety of prices for different types of contact. It's called cuddling and its popularity in Los Angeles is growing.

So then what about cuddling a stranger?

Transcendental Meditation

Another popular way to relieve stress in Los Angeles is Transcendental Meditation (TM). Marty Hulsebos, a transcendental meditation teacher in Beverly Hills, said unlike other types of meditation, TM is effortless. Hulsebos said he believes there are several benefits to transcendental meditation, including an increase of productivity and creativity.

TM dates back to the 1950s and over 10 million people across the world have practiced the unchanged technique, according to the TM website. "As stress gets released through TM we become more resilient to stress, and we don't take on as much stress. Therefore we can handle situations much better,” Hulsebos said.

So whether it’s rock climbing in parks, art, meditation, cuddling programs, drugs, or simply listening to a podcast on the road, Angelenos seem to always find their own solutions to curbing stress.

Tripping Stress with Psychedelics

Stressed? Do drugs. But don’t just do any kind; do psychedelics. At least that’s what top psychedelic specialists in the city of Los Angeles have to say. LA offers up stress and anxiety like no other city–from traffic to smog to housing prices.

Los Angeles is the mouth of the snake in all of this.”
Sherree Godasi, psychedelic integrationist

A new poll on the stressors of city life questioned 3,000 residents from Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Miami and Chicago and found that 76% of Los Angeles residents reported they were at least somewhat stressed on a typical day, barely edging out New York City.

Los Angeles residents are also most likely to claim their city is the hardest to live in out of every city in the entire country (61%), according to a survey conducted by OnePoll, a London-based marketing research company specializing in online and mobile polling.

“Los Angeles is the mouth of the snake in all of this,” says psychedelic integrationist Sherree Godasi, the founder of a harm reduction organization in Los Angeles called PsychedeLiA: Psychedelic Integration. Godasi spends her days helping clients “navigate the psychedelic space with less risk so that they can amplify their experience.” Her clients come in different shapes and sizes, but their stress and anxiety seem to share a root cause, she says.

“My clients don’t have the language to articulate what is going on with them,” Godasi says. “And anxiety happens because we haven’t been taught the tools of emotional intelligence to help process our feelings properly.”

The drugs Godasi’s clients utilize are largely illegal, and many medical experts caution against using them at all. Still, others advise using them only in a clinical setting. “Outside of the controlled clinical setting, there is a much greater risk of negative experiences and possible lasting psychological trauma,” says William Mehring, an EMT and aspiring physician with USC's Keck School of Medicine.

The Mushroom Cure

Comedian, writer and artist Adam Strauss can attest to the need to find common language to express feelings. Strauss is known in the world of psychedelics as the man who claims to have cured his OCD through the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. It even gave birth to his critically acclaimed show “The Mushroom Cure.”

Psilocybe Tampanensis, a psychedelic mushroom in the Strophariaceae family

After breaking up with a longtime girlfriend, Strauss says he noticed his disposition changing for the worse. “I didn’t even know what was happening. I just remember developing a specific cluster of thinking and behaviors that took over rapidly.”

OCD is an anxiety disorder in which the individual “becomes trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are senseless and distressing but extremely difficult to overcome,” according to MedicineNet, a California-based medical website that provides detailed information about diseases, conditions, medications and general health. Strauss says he was desperate, and in his search for answers he found a study by the University of Arizona that provided preliminary evidence for using psilocybin to cure OCD.

That was powerful, to see the errors in how my brain worked.”
Adam Strauss, creator of "The Mushroom Cure"

Strauss experimented illicitly with psychedelic drugs outside of the clinical setting, which can be a major red flag for medical personnel. Strauss admits he was reckless in his psychedelic errand, but he also points to the significant strides he believes he has made from his psychedelic use. “There were very important insights. It almost gives you a third-person view of your own mind,” he says. “When you’re in a radically different state, you can see things from a certain remove. That was powerful, to see the errors in how my brain worked.”

Harm reduction counselor Matthew Brennan, who largely works out of the Santa Monica and Topanga areas providing a holistic approach to addiction treatment and psychotherapy, says he has seen his clients benefit from using psychedelic drugs. “Almost all of my clients have responded well to psychedelic medicine work, with many reporting significant reductions in decades-long anxiety, depression and stress often caused by underlying traumas or incessant, negative thought patterns,” Brennan says.

Psychedelic Medicalization

Ketamine Hydrochloride

Perhaps the most mainstream option–and currently the only legal option in America–for psychedelic therapy comes in the form of ketamine-based treatment. The Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles are a prime example of the popularization of psychedelics in Los Angeles. The organization boasts an AAAASF accreditation, which denotes a very high standard for patient safety, a direct confirmation of mainstream medical approval.

Not everyone is excited to see this field move increasingly toward medicalization, however. “There are those in the psychedelic community that disagree with this form of popularization, because they feel by medicalizing indigenous medicines, we are disempowering people,” says Godasi, who has positioned herself as a spokesperson in the psychedelic space.

Brad Burge, Director of Strategic Communications for psychedelic research powerhouse MAPS, is sympathetic to Godasi's view on the possible appropriation of indigenous medicines. “I know exactly where she is coming from, and that’s something we take very seriously. It’s not just about what we can learn from these substances, because that is appropriation,” Burge says. “It’s also about making sure the traditional practices continue to be sustainable. There has to be attention to preserving the indigenous practices.”

If you’ve never had a psychedelic experience, you have no business administering a psychedelic experience to another individual.”
Sherree Godasi, psychedelic integrationist

Burge says one outcome of the push toward medicalization is “a proliferation of psychedelic cultures. So rather than a sterilization, what I’m seeing is an explosion.” Burge points to renowned author and professor Michael Pollan’s new book on the benefits of psychedelics, “How to Change Your Mind,” and the growing popularity of psychedelic events like the festival Burning Man as proof of the growing acceptance of the psychedelic movement.

But Godasi’s worries do not stop at appropriation or empowerment. Godasi also questions whether most medical professionals can even administer these substances in good conscious. “I don’t care if you’re a licensed therapist or a medical doctor, if you’ve never had a psychedelic experience, you have no business administering a psychedelic experience to another individual. You will never be able to conceptually understand what that person has gone through.”

But whether in the clinic or underground, Godasi concludes, “Psychedelics are analogs to the way we live and experience. What that means is a person can learn to have a higher awareness, that they are not their emotions and that they are not their negative experiences. They can learn that they are suffering from an illusion.”

Locals Find Relief One Cure at a Time


Angelenos, living in one of the most stressful cities in America, have found ways to alleviate their stress and anxiety.

Their methods vary in prevalence. Murals dot the city providing visual relief, while psychedelic therapies on the outskirts of medicine have proven lifesaving to many.

Financial differences also persist. Podcast episodes from the Art of Charm are free, but transcendental meditation is on the higher end of the pay scale.

What weaves in and out of all these treatments is a search for relief. People believe their lives have changed for the better as a result of these health interventions. But no single treatment is a silver bullet.

In the words of local psychedelic specialist Skye Weaver, “Holistic, integrative practices are needed. Having this whole globe of traditions at our fingertips, especially in Los Angeles–access to yoga, medicine work, community, spirituality, walks on the beach. It’s all of it, because we are whole beings connected to all of these things.”

Murals In Los Angeles

The murals of Los Angeles respond to the neighborhoods around them, using creative expression and compassion to reflect themes of community and social justice.

Whether it be honoring the Black Panther movement, aiming to eliminate homelessness, or celebrating a legendary Laker, LA’s muralists paint for causes they believe in.