What Are the Most Stressful Jobs in the U.S.?

most stressful careers

Some jobs are more stressful than others. Of course, every job includes some stress, but for some occupations, the combination of on-the-job hazards, exposure to violence, and daily deadlines can be incredibly stressful.

Some stressful jobs, like police officers, are high-risk and include exposure to potentially deadly situations. But it’s not just physical risk that can lead to high levels of stress and burnout. CareerCast ranks America’s most stressful occupations annually and they say other job demands can evoke high amounts of stress.

These job demands include the amount of travel, a lack of growth potential, working in the public eye, and frequently meeting with clients and the public. For example, news reporters don’t often face physical danger, but this job requires long hours and constant deadlines. People working in the news media also fear libel and defamation lawsuits and a tough job market.

Interestingly, the most stressful jobs in the U.S. share the common factors that they’re all crucial to the safety and democracy of the country. Firefighters and military personnel protect the country from harm, and news reporters are responsible for keeping politicians and authorities accountable.

We’ll look at the most stressful jobs in America, breaking down the major causes of stress and if they earn enough for the amount of stress you have to deal with.

Surgeon

most stressful careers

Working as a surgeon is a prominent job with stress and high-pressure situations. While a surgeon’s life may not be in danger, they are responsible for the lives of others in their work.

Surgery deals with operations on the tiniest nuances of a person’s body, and the decisions surgeons make can be life or death. Surgeons must also learn vast amounts of knowledge, specializing in specific medical areas or problems, such as neurosurgeons or vascular surgeons.

The amount of pressure on surgeons during medical procedures is very high. There’s always the risk of complications even during routine operations and, if something goes wrong, the risk of medical malpractice lawsuits. Most surgeons also work up to 60 hours per week and spend most all their time on call.

Of course, surgeons are well compensated for their hard work. The average surgeon in the U.S. earns nearly $417,000 annually. Some high-pressure jobs have dwindling career prospects and low pay, but definitely not for surgeons.

Police Officer

most stressful careers

No matter what you think about police officers, you must admit it’s a stressful and dangerous occupation. Of course, there’s the obvious source of the pressure of having to apprehend criminals and fight criminal activity. But many cops also experience stress from simply being an officer and wearing a badge. They must always be poised and in control of their emotions, and citizens are constantly watching how they act and react.

There are no limits to the types of pain, suffering, and distress that police officers are exposed to, which is why many often get diagnosed with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Police officers must serve and protect, often helping people in dire situations and witnessing crimes beyond understanding. Seeing crime on TV differs from dealing with it first-hand in real life.

Police officers also must make lightning-quick decisions that could affect people’s lives forever. If cops make one wrong move, they can seriously hurt someone, could die themselves, or face legal action. To add to all this, there’s more pressure on police officers than ever nowadays considering recent social movements like Defund the Police. Police officers are being dissected more than ever, which is partly why many police departments are having trouble recruiting and record numbers of police officers are quitting and leaving the force.

The average pay for police officers is decent, which may make the stress worth it. The average patrol officer you see in your neighborhood earns about $65,000, depending on the municipality. Detective and criminal investigators make more, earning nearly $87,000 annually. Plus, police officers are known to have good benefits and pensions from working for the government.

Social Worker

most stressful careers

Being a social worker is another job that exposes you to a ton of mental and emotional trauma. Social workers help people suffering from some of the worst problems, including abuse, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, and severe forms of depression and mental illness.

Social workers are trained to handle the emotional demands of the job, but it’s challenging to separate the work from their lives. This is the type of job you often bring home with you. Many social workers may cope with the stress of their careers through unhealthy mechanisms, such as addiction.

Social workers also must make tough decisions and face resistance from the very people they’re trying to help. Imagine trying to help someone in poverty and addicted to drugs who can’t seem to get it together.

While social workers are drawn to the profession to help others, many suffer from burnout. Burnout happens from dealing with traumatizing parts of the job, but it also happens from “compassion fatigue,” when social workers get so entangled in their clients’ troubles that they sink with them.

If all this isn’t bad enough, social workers don’t make much money. The average social worker in America earns about $53,000 annually. And even after working for a decade or more in the profession, most social workers only have the potential to earn up to about $64,000. Our society needs social workers to tend to those who suffer, but it’s a tough job that wears many people out.

Paramedic

most stressful careers

Like police officers, paramedics witness some of the most gruesome scenes and injuries anyone can imagine. This is a highly demanding job because you respond to grisly accidents and you’re never prepared for what you might see, whether a fire, car crash, or shooting.

Paramedics must work fast and are constantly aware that people’s lives are on the line. If they don’t make it to the accident scene fast enough, it’s almost certain they’ll watch the victims die. In addition, paramedics are usually on call and on edge. It’s hard to get settled into a routine and get a good night’s rest when you know something may happen at any time.

Paramedics are true heroes, and the work they do is an essential job in our society. But the emotional and mental toll of the job can wear people down. Some people thrive on the adrenaline rush of helping others in such dire need, but after several years of witnessing traumatic events, it can easily lead to burnout.

If that’s not bad enough, most paramedics don’t earn much money. The average salary for a paramedic in the U.S. is meager (about $36,000). There are many paramedic job openings because it’s such an essential occupation, but the combination of low pay and high stress makes it very tough.

Nurses

most stressful careers

Many jobs in health care are highly stressful, and perhaps one of the most stressful is being a nurse. Nurses often work just as much as doctors, especially nurse practitioners, but they also must do tons of grunt work and administrative work. Dealing with sick and suffering patients can wear nurses out, and they get paid less than doctors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made nursing even more stressful, turning an already high-pressure job into something even more grueling. Especially at the start of the pandemic, nurses worked long hours and were exposed to the coronavirus more than others.

As a result, the pandemic has led to nursing burnout at record-high levels. To add insult to injury, the controversy and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 have been disheartening for nurses. So many people have refused to take basic precautions and even spread conspiracy theories about COVID, all while nurses continue to care for sick patients.

If it’s any consolation, nurses do make a good salary. The average nurse earns about $73,000 annually in the U.S. The job prospects for nurses are also good, considering that the healthcare industry is expected to grow as America’s Baby Boomer population ages.

Mental Health Counselors

most stressful careers

Working as a therapist can be very rewarding as you help clients through challenging life problems. But it’s also a stressful job. Therapists must develop trust with patients, stay calm and poised, and deal with clients who are often in very emotional states. Like social workers, therapists usually take their work home with them, as clients share distressing stories and tell them about things that can be very upsetting, such as abuse, depression, and suffering.

Many therapists are drawn to the profession to help others, but it’s easy to feel the emotional strain of listening to people talk about their mental struggles and issues. Often, therapists must develop ways to manage their emotions. If they don’t, they can suffer the same problems their patients face, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.

The good thing about being a mental health counselor is that the job pays well. Therapists earn an average salary of nearly $72,000 per year, and they can earn additional income from writing books, giving lectures, and hosting workshops for other professionals. The job outlook for mental health professionals is also promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts an 8% increase in job opportunities for psychologists by 2030.

Managing Stress Wisely

most stressful careers

Every job has stress and some pressure is a good thing. Anxiety motivates us to try our best and rise to the challenge. Just be careful if you work in these jobs that your stress doesn’t become chronic and unhealthy.

Chronic stress from work or any other cause can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, and a weakened immune system. It can also lead to several adverse outcomes, including mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Many of the jobs we listed are so stressful they can lead to burnout, a period where you feel so exhausted from your work that you have a breakdown. If you’re in a stressful job, make sure you’re doing things to manage the tension, such as giving yourself time for breaks, getting good sleep and exercise, and eating healthy.

The world needs occupations that are very stressful, and someone must do these jobs. Imagine a world without nurses, surgeons, and police officers. We’d all be less safe and much worse off. So, show appreciation to people who work these jobs when you can because they greatly benefit our society and country.

If you’re interested in working in one of these demanding careers, you’ll need a professional resume that clearly showcases your skills, experience, and value that you bring. Contact us today for more information.

Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.

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