What constitutes a stressful career?

What constitutes a stressful career?

Is your career stressful? There are lots of stressful career lists out there. Click here or here. Is your job on one of these lists?

Every job has its stressful times but there are features of some careers that are worse than others. I’ve had a few careers in my time that have been stressful and as I dig deeper into workplace stress, I wondered why careers are classed as stressful and why. I decided to analyse the lists of stressful jobs and come up with a list of characteristics as to why those jobs make the list.

These characteristics cause acute and chronic stress. Acute stress is short and sharp while chronic stress is a constant less intense niggle but more of a problem. Both, in excess can lead to burnout.

  1. Someone’s physical life in your hands

Having someone’s life in your hands is probably the ultimate stress. I remember having a stressful publishing deadline and reminded myself that no one’s life is at stake here. Prior to that I was a senior critical care nurse and the patient’s life was in my hands. A critically ill person may not be able to continue breathing independently without those critical care nurses.

Armed forces on active-duty top many of the lists. They probably tick most of the criteria here on my list. Their life, others’ lives and future lives, responsibility and deadlines all come into play.

There are front line emergency workers like firefighters, police and paramedics that face situations where not only their life is at risk but the people in the impending situation are at risk too.

Doctors have that experience too. The quality of their work has a direct effect on someone’s life: a surgeon, anaesthetist, emergency, and intensive care physician. If they make a mistake, someone can die.

What about engineers, constructing buildings and bridges that have to be structurally sound. Pilots and air traffic controllers have whole plane loads of people in their hands.

  1. Someone’s future in your hands

Imagine how stressful it would be having someone’s future in your hands. What if someone has a chronic problem and your job is to help improve that situation for them?

Social workers and health professionals are dealing with the traumatic situations of their patients and clients on a daily basis. Just imagine trying to help someone who has had traumatic (physical or mental) experiences and that is destroying their quality of life.

I think of teachers and the education of students who will take over the future of the country as stressful. Their deadlines and workload come into play as well.

  1. Full responsibility is on you

When the buck stops with you, there is stress from so many angles. The stress of small business is that you are responsible for everything. You are responsible for your own income and the service or goods you provide. If you have employees, you are responsible for their livelihood as well. You have to be across all areas of your business, employees and customers.

  1. Deadlines

Some careers have non-negotiable deadlines and sales targets that just must be met. I’m thinking about journalists that must meet editorial deadlines, so a newspaper is ready for printing every day. Under time constraints, they not only have to do the research, but also write the thing.  Online news has both increased and decreased that stress. Being first to a a breaking news story is stressful.

I have had longer project deadlines. Meeting book publishing deadlines where I am part of a team can be majorly stressful. If for any reason I get behind writing, the whole team suffers, and the project is thrown out of whack.

Sales teams have targets they are contracted to meet. Even if the targets seen unrealistically high, not meeting them puts their incomes and jobs at risk. The pressure and stress sales teams find themselves in happens daily.


Some people who work in these stressful careers often thrive in those conditions, but they still need have processes in place to deal with the acute stress. When it leads to chronic stress, it may result in burnout.

If you find your job stressful and it isn’t in one of these groups, maybe it is a toxic workplace or similar like I discuss in the next blog.