Have a Less Stressful Year

Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Today, my colleague Selena Dehne tweeted about an article on the AOL website called “10 Most Stressful Jobs of 2012.” Having written 150 Best Low-Stress Jobs, I was interested in what high-stress jobs would appear on the list.

The researchers who compiled the list say they looked at 11 different factors that invoke stress. Just for a comparison, I looked at the jobs for which the O*NET database gives “Stress Tolerance” the highest importance rating. Surprisingly, there was zero overlap between O*NET’s top 10 and the top 10 on the AOL website.

In fairness, I should point out that the most stressful job listed on the AOL website, Enlisted Military Soldier, is not rated for stress by O*NET. However, many of the other job titles, such as Firefighter (#2) and Airline Pilot (#3) are rated by O*NET but given considerably lower scores. In fact, Forest Firefighters comes in at number 170 in the O*NET ratings and Municipal Firefighters at 181. Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers comes in at 50. On the other hand, Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers comes in at third place among the O*NET ratings.

In case you’re curious, here are the top 10 from O*NET:
  1. Psychiatric Aides
  2. Anesthesiologists
  3. Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers
  4. Psychiatric Technicians
  5. Telephone Operators
  6. Dancers
  7. Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs
  8. Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  9. Air Traffic Controllers
  10. Surgeons
If your job is stressful, maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions should be to lower the level of stress. You’ll be a better worker and a healthier person if you follow through on this idea. Here are some suggestions:
  • Identify what’s stressing you and set priorities: You probably can’t defuse every stressful aspect of your work—unless you quit, which creates new stresses. So focus on the most severe stressors that you have the greatest likelihood of being able to change. Avoid perfectionism, which is a self-imposed form of stress; accept the fact that you make mistakes and view them as opportunities for learning. Be realistic about the goals you set for yourself.
  • Speak up: Don’t suffer in silence. (One survey found that 60 percent of workers do.) Often, your boss or co-workers can make adjustments to your work situation that may reduce or eliminate stressors. The key is for you to avoid whining and make the case that reducing the stress will increase your productivity. Ask for the resources you need and show appreciation for the support you get. If you’re self-employed, let your family know what’s causing stress and enlist their help in reducing it or in making leisure time more rewarding.
  • Put up a fence between work and the rest of your life: Avoid letting a cell phone or e-mail chain you to the workplace. Working partly at home can remove you from some office pressures, but it can also blur the line between work and free time. Cultivate friendships with people who aren’t co-workers.
  • Get organized: Sticking tightly (but not obsessively) to a schedule can help you separate work from leisure. It can prevent you from procrastinating and help you limit the amount of time you let yourself think about stressors. Deal with them when they’re scheduled, and then put them out of your thoughts. You can achieve a similar effect by reducing office clutter. Having dozens of papers lying around the office is like having dozens of voices nagging you to get tasks done and also makes it hard for you to find what you need. If you don’t have a job description, ask your boss for one. It will help you set boundaries on what is expected of you.
  • Exercise regularly: Leave time in your busy schedule for a workout of some kind. You may feel that stress leaves you too tired to exercise, but most people who take up a regular schedule of exercise finds that it invigorates them. It also drains away stress-induced hormones and contributes to your long-term health.
  • Eat sensibly and get enough sleep: Junk food and sleep deprivation can compound stress-related health problems. For example, caffeine and high-carbohydrate foods can increase the rush in blood sugar that stress produces.
  • Practice relaxation: Meditation techniques—even something as simple as slow, rhythmic breathing in a quiet setting—can help you decompress. Some people get similar benefits from extended prayer or a midday nap. Many people believe that bringing a pet to work is helpful (if the employer allows it).
  • Build a social life: Many people find the most rewarding time of the week is the time they spend with family and friends. Try to maximize these times. Social contacts distract you from workplace pressures and can provide support when you’re feeling blue. Meet like-minded people through volunteer work, a night class, a book club, a faith community, or a sports league.
  • Maintain a sense of humor: Try to find the humor in your situation. You can’t be afraid of something while you’re laughing at it. If you can’t find any humor in your workplace, find it in your leisure time.


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