It isn't exactly news that unemployment is stressful. But working can be a great source of stress for many people. Polls and surveys have found that anywhere from one-fourth to nearly half of working Americans say that their job is extremely stressful [source: CareerCast].
Who has the most stressful job? Chances are that many people will say that they win that dubious honor, whatever their job may be. That's one of the problems with the lists that rank jobs by stress level: Polls and surveys may be unreliable. In addition, work-related stresses may not be caused by occupation, but a particular set of circumstances. If you don't like your boss or a co-worker, you're going to be stressed -- no matter what your job. The same is true if you know layoffs are coming, or if you're not suited to your job.
Online employment service CareerCast tries to measure job stress by using U.S. Census and Department of Labor data to assign points for such factors as deadlines, physical risk, competitiveness and work environment.
Another problem with comparisons is that some rankings don't group professions in the same way as others. Some don't even look at jobs that others rank as highly stressful. Various rankings list dentists, physicians, surgeons, and psychiatrists or therapists separately, while others lump them all into a "medical professional" category.
Since any listing of most stressful jobs will be subjective, we've come up with our own list of the 10 most stressful jobs in the U.S.
Keep reading. Maybe you have some ideas of your own.
There's no doubt that miners -- especially those who go deep underground -- face incredible stress. The environment alone would be enough to discourage most people from taking the job. Miners spend long hours in the dark, unable to see the sun or get a breath of really fresh air. They work in cramped conditions, and the danger of being killed or trapped is ever present. If that wasn't enough, the work is also physically hard. Risks to miners' health extend even into their retirement, when they may develop diseases related to having inhaled coal dust or fumes all those years. And -- even though the job is stressful -- they worry that the mine might close, costing them their jobs.
Keep reading to learn about another stress-filled job.
Many lists of stressful jobs include business leaders, whether they're identified as chief executive officers, advertising account executives or some other high-level corporate executive.
These lucrative, white-collar jobs might seem highly desirable, but the big checks come with a price. The hours are likely to be long, and what looks like relaxation is often really networking. The competition with other corporations and with colleagues can be cutthroat. Salespeople are under constant pressure to bring in more business and more revenue. Those at the top must try to keep a lot of people with different interests happy, from shareholders to employees. Increasingly, there's also public scrutiny to worry about, with questions about such issues as ethics, diversity and environmental responsibility.
If a top executive gets a lot of the credit for success, he or she also may get all the blame for failure, or even for less-than-expected success. Any top executive knows that he or she could be out of a job with short notice. Even having a so-called golden parachute severance package is little consolation for someone whose life has been defined by a high-level job.
Read on for more hair-pulling jobs.
The newspaper reporter's job includes many of the classic causes of stress. The types of stress may vary depending upon what the reporter covers. A police reporter who goes out to crime scenes may be in more physical danger than, say, a reporter who covers fashion. But most reporters work long hours for relatively low pay. Their schedules are apt to change with little notice - they fully expect to work on weekends and holidays. They usually have firm deadlines to meet and editors breathing down their necks. With such tight deadlines, mistakes can and will be made. And when a newspaper reporter makes a mistake, it's out there in print for everyone to see and ridicule. Reporters rarely have the opportunity to rest and savor their successes; they're always under pressure to come up with the next idea, the next lead and the next story.
In recent years, the job has become even more stressful for two reasons. One is that the public holds newspaper reporters, along with other news media, in low esteem, and reporters often face intense (and often unfair) public criticism as a result. The other is that the newspaper business is struggling to adapt to the Internet age, so layoffs are widespread. Many reporters either have lost jobs or are worried about losing their jobs. Those who still have jobs find their workloads heavier because there are fewer reporters on staff.
Read on and weep some more.
Those Who Fly, and Those Who Help Them
So you don't like to fly. Take-offs and landings are scary. Turbulence can be frightening. On the plane, you're cramped and uncomfortable. And you've seen footage of plane crashes. You know how dangerous flying can be.
Imagine being the person responsible for flying that plane safely. Commercial pilots often show up on lists of most stressful jobs, for understandable reasons. If a pilot makes a mistake, he might die -- and take a lot of other people with him. Or, an equipment failure or weather emergency might endanger everyone on board the airplane through no fault of the pilot's. If the pilot saves the day, he or she becomes a hero like Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the U.S. Airways pilot who safely landed a damaged plane into New York's Hudson River in 2009. But that's not always the outcome.
Other lists include the related job of air traffic controller. Air traffic controllers work under intense pressure, sitting for long stretches at their equipment. They often have to make split-second decisions, knowing that many lives depend upon them.
And the highly publicized case of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who grabbed a few beers and escaped down an emergency chute on a runway in August 2010, reminds us that those who tend to nervous airline passengers also have stress-filled jobs.
Firefighters led CareerCast's 2010 list of most stressful jobs [source: CareerCast]. Emergency medical technicians often show up on other lists.
Workers in both jobs often work at the same emergency settings, and their jobs are similar enough to share a ranking.
Firefighters and EMTs often work long hours. Sometimes, they're simply on duty without answering any calls, but often they miss a lot of sleep. These jobs also can cost workers a lot of family time.
Time spent in the station, working on equipment, training or just passing the time can suddenly be interrupted by an emergency call that requires immediate action. Firefighters and EMTs are often in physical danger themselves. They must deal with people who are injured, frightened or grieving. They're likely to see gruesome scenes that may haunt their nightmares. Too often, they must deal with the reality of losing someone or someone's home that they tried to save.
If that wasn't enough, firefighters and EMTs generally don't make much. Danger plus meager pay equals a stressful job.
Some jobs may be so stressful that they drive workers to suicide. Keep reading to find out more.
Medical professionals often show up on lists of stressful jobs. Consider the vital importance of their work, the long hours and the knowledge that they can't always fix things, and the stress is understandable.
Surgeons must be incredibly precise -- often for hours at a time. Psychiatrists listen to other people's problems, knowing that they can't always help. Medical interns work hard, often without adequate sleep. Dentists do much of their work standing up, developing foot and back problems, in addition to worrying about people's teeth and gums. Nurses and others who work with terminally ill patients face great emotional stress.
Dentists, physicians and others with their own practices feel the pressure of running a business as well as attending to their painstaking work. Those who work for larger practices feel pressured to see more patients, and sometimes feel they don't have enough time to do their job right.
Feeling stressed yet? Keep reading.
Most teachers deal with lots of job stress. They have to be well prepared every day, and they get very little down time -- none, really, while students are present. Many people think that teachers have good working schedules, but teachers take a lot more of their work home with them than other professionals. There are always lessons to plan, papers to grade and records to keep. In addition, the pay isn't much, compared to professions with similar educational requirements.
Increasingly, public school teachers face additional problems of lack of respect from students, and even from students' parents and the general public. Because they're paid with tax dollars, public school teachers are always under scrutiny. Few professionals are judged as closely as teachers are. Emphasis on test scores finds teachers held accountable if their students don't improve each year -- even if the students may be hampered by factors outside the classroom.
Go to the next page to read about a professional that's always been stressful.
Whether they work for local police, county sheriff's departments, highway patrol or other agencies, law-enforcement officers have one of the most stressful jobs around.
Whenever a call comes in, police officers must be ready to put their lives on the line. Even more stressful, they know that even a routine traffic stop or a seemingly ordinary incident can turn dangerous in seconds. Despite that knowledge, officers must practice restraint. They don't want to be accused of having used unnecessary force, and they don't want to cause the injury or death of another person. Their split-second judgments may be second-guessed by others for a long time.
The hours are long, and the schedules can take a heavy toll on family life. A sworn officer of the law is never really off-duty. He or she must be ready to step in if an emergency arises. And once again, they do lots of important work for relatively little compensation.
Then there are the armed officers who have the extra burden of long stints away from home. Keep reading to learn about another source of stress.
Deployed Military Personnel
Soldiers belong in a special category. Military personnel don't have to worry about being laid off, and they usually have excellent benefits.
But that job security and those benefits come at a price. People in the military don't have the freedom to walk away from a job if they decide they don't like it. They're subject to changes in orders with little or no warning. They must worry about their rank and compete for promotions.
And when the troops are deployed, stress rises. Separation from their families can bring many problems. Reserve troops who leave their civilian jobs worry deployment will hurt their careers.
Put troops into combat zones and the stress level soars. In today's wars, neither the enemy nor the battlefront is clearly defined. The 2008 movie "The Hurt Locker" depicted the extreme stress felt by those who dispose of explosives -- and that's hardly the only nerve-wracking job that troops face. Everyone in a war-torn country knows he or she could drive over an improvised roadside bomb or come under fire at any time. No one is safe. Sleep may be scarce, and there's no real down time. It's no wonder that many soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Here's a job that doesn't show up on many "most stressful jobs" lists. Why? Unfortunately, it often isn't considered a real job. But few things can be more stressful than having a job outside the home, and then coming home to the demanding job of being a parent.
We most often think of working mothers as having high stress levels, but the same is true for any single parent of either gender, and for working fathers who share primary responsibility for raising their children.
The stress arises largely from being pulled in so many, often contradictory, directions. If parents deal with a child's problems -- illness, trouble at school, emotional problems, whatever -- at work, they may worry about neglecting deadlines. If they don't deal with the children's problems immediately, parents are going to feel guilty.
What if there's a big day coming up at work, but your child wakes up feeling ill? What if it snows, and school is delayed or canceled? What if you're supposed to stay late for some important professional reason, but you can't find a babysitter? And what about conflicts that aren't even crises, such as choosing between a business meeting and a child's ballgame? Focusing too much on your child might hurt your career, and vice versa. How do you choose wisely?
Many parents are also teachers, soldiers, doctors, police officers or any of the other stressful jobs on this list. Imagine that.
How can you get out of giving a professional reference if you don't want to? HowStuffWorks has some tips.
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