Latest ranking of most stressful jobs may just surprise you

Heather Feeler, marketing and communications specialist at St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City, has one of the top 10 stressful jobs according to CareerCast.com. With the hospital’s new construction, Feeler has had a busy few years, and has her own personalized hard hat to prove it.

Heather Feeler, marketing and communications specialist at St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City, has one of the top 10 stressful jobs according to CareerCast.com. With the hospital’s new construction, Feeler has had a busy few years, and has her own personalized hard hat to prove it. Photo by Julie Smith.

10 most stressful jobs of 2014

The top 10 most stressful jobs of 2014 rated by CareerCast.com are:

  1. Enlisted military personnel
  2. Military general
  3. Firefighter
  4. Airline pilot
  5. Event coordinator
  6. Public relations executive
  7. Corporate executive (senior)
  8. Newspaper reporter
  9. Police officer
  10. Taxi driver

Think your job’s stressful? In his first week on the job, Jefferson City police Lt. Deric Heislen responded to a suicide, a rollover wreck on the Missouri Bridge and stopped a 16-year-old for DWI only to find a loaded handgun in the car.

And Heislen’s job ranked only ninth among most stressful jobs, according to a new study.

Though the hair-pulling, knuckle-crunching stresses of the workplace may seem universal, a CareerCast.com study reports that some careers induce more anxiety than others.

Taking into account factors such as competitiveness, public exposure and life-threatening danger, among others, the report compiled a list of the 10 most stressful jobs of 2014 with event coordinator, public relations executive and police officer garnering the fifth, sixth and ninth spots, respectively.

Jefferson City residents in those three careers commented on the stressful attributes of their respective workplaces and their strategies in mitigating them, while Jill Lillard, licensed professional counselor, offered readers guidance on alleviating work-related stress.

No. 9: police officer

While Heislen of the Jefferson City Police Department has faced many potentially perilous situations as a police officer, he has experienced sufficient gratification as a result of his work in law enforcement.

In admiration of an uncle who was a Missouri trooper, Heislen pursued a career in law enforcement first by earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Missouri.

“I was intrigued by it. It caught my eye. It wasn’t just a little kid’s pipe dream,” he said.

photo

Officers Andy Lenart, at left, and Geoff Rowland of the Jefferson City Police Department look over a wrecked truck on the impound lot at Tow Pro Wrecker in Holts Summit.

Heislen joined the department after graduating from the Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia, which prepared him for scenarios in the field, though not the anxiety associated with possible danger, he said.

“They give you an overview of what to expect but you don’t know how real it is. You know you’re not going to die (in training). It becomes real when you get out on the street,” Heislen said.

Though students at LETI participate in realistic training exercises, some of which occur at night, graduates still may possess an “unrealistic view” of law enforcement.

“You know the person in the car is a classmate, not a suspect. The unknown is what they try to teach you about. Then, you realize it’s real,” Heislen said.

The frequent lack of knowing what to expect is often “most intriguing to people,” though it could induce stress, he said.

“A loud music call can turn into something bad. Nothing is cookie-cutter. It’s all different,” he said.

Soon after graduation, Heislen quickly became inundated with the experience of dealing with serious crimes under the supervision of his field training officer in his first week on the job, he said.

Heislen worked on the scenes of a suicide committed by a 14-year-old and a rollover accident on the Missouri River Bridge. He also pursued an intoxicated 16-year-old driver, and upon giving her a DWI, he and other officers discovered a loaded pistol beneath the driver’s seat, he said.

“I never realized how much went on in town. It was a solid week,” Heislen said.

Though Heislen’s early experiences “opened my eyes to what goes on,” he acknowledged that he does not always encounter the level of tumult that he did his first week.

“It ebbs and flows. It just so happened that those things happened that week,” he said.

Though Heislen attempted to model the calculated reactions of his field training officer to stressful situations during the day, relaxing after work in the first few weeks on the job often proved difficult, he said.

“At the start, there were nights where it was hard to go to bed and unwind. Your mind is just racing,” he said.

Following the completion of his field training, Heislen has served in a variety of units including the traffic unit, SWAT team, honor guard and field training unit, he said.

Though he characterized the demand of the job as “feast or famine” on a week-to-week basis, Heislen worked considerable hours after first joining the police department out of enthusiasm for the job, he said.

“I lived and breathed it. It’s a passion when you first start. You don’t want to miss out on anything, not that the fire has diminished at all,” he said.

Because officers must occasionally attempt to mentally shield themselves from emotional distress, they may appear unsympathetic to families of crime or accident victims, Heislen said.

“I will remember all of the serious calls I’ve been on. We have to do a job. If we let emotions get in the way, it will hinder the result of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

Though investigation of serious incidents and some leadership responsibilities have caused Heislen stress in the past, “… it’s just a matter of managing that,” he said.

Conversing with peers inside and outside the law enforcement field has allayed stress for Heislen and others, he said.

Often, speaking with another officer on an issue has proven helpful for Heislen, he said.

“You know people in the department have dealt with a similar incident. You’re around a lot of like-minded people who can help you out here,” he said.

Heislen also advises new officers to maintain friendships with people outside of law enforcement to avoid extensive discussion of law enforcement activities and dwelling on stressful thoughts, he said.

Despite the difficulties and tensions of law enforcement work, Heislen acknowledged the internally fulfilling aspects of the job.

“There aren’t a lot of perks … but you go home knowing what you did was right. That’s the personal satisfaction of it all,” he said.

No. 6: public relations executive

Some of CareerCast.com’s picks for the most stressful jobs might be surprising. Careers in public relations, for instance, are listed as being more stressful than life-risking jobs like police officer.

Heather Feeler, marketing and communications specialist at St. Mary’s Health Center, understands the difficulties of fulfilling numerous deadlines and obligations within a short timeframe.

“The main stress is how you get it all done in a day, just trying to fit it all in,” she said.

As a result of her love of writing, Feeler pursued a communications degree from Truman State University, after which she worked for a law firm in Kansas City, then began working for St. Mary’s.

“I always loved writing, public speaking and communication, so I explored that route in college,” she said.

Though the frenzied variety of tasks requiring completion in a single day can sometimes feel crunching, Feeler acknowledged that the assortment of work adds liveliness to her day.

“It’s an exciting job. Every day you’re doing something different … there could be stress in that. A lot of deliverables need to get done,” she said.

Feeler organizes events, speaks publicly and communicates with employees, the public and the press on behalf of the hospital, among other projects, she said.

In her efforts to punctually complete all her responsibilities at hand, Feeler employs her organizational skills in a variety of methods, including reminders on her cell phone and physical checklists, she said.

“It would be hard to be in this job and not be organized or on top of details. Any way that I can stay on top of things the minute I think about it is good for me. I love checking things off of my checklist,” she said.

To avoid work-related stress outside of work, Feeler often takes walks at the Runge Nature Center and plays outside with her children.

“You can solve anything with game of foursquare. Priorities come back to focus,” she said.

In spite of the gratification Feeler receives from her work in communications, she emphasized the importance of time spent not contemplating work-related details.

“In a career where you have lots of details to take care of all the time, you have to spend time taking care of yourself, too, so you can come in each day and be ready to tackle everything that’s on your plate,” she said.

Feeler’s dedication to the mission of St. Mary’s fuels her enthusiasm for her career, she said.

“Even though there can be stress, it’s a rewarding job at the end of the day … because I can communicate what I am passionate about,” she said.

No. 5: special events planner

With stresses similar to those of a public relations executive, event coordinator landed an even higher spot on the list. Coming in at fifth, the career of event coordinator apparently produces the greatest amount of stress of any of this week’s featured occupations.

Similar to the situation of Feeler, work for Special Olympics Missouri has given Susan Stegeman fulfillment that outweighs any stresses she has experienced in her role as vice president, she said.

“Special Olympics answered the void I had in my life. Once I got here, I felt like I could contribute and make a difference,” she said.

Stegeman has worked for Special Olympics Missouri for 23 years with a degree in business administration from Central Methodist University.

To raise funds to pay for the athletic programs that Special Olympics offers, Stegeman helps organize more than 300 fundraising events annually, an activity which began as an interest and transformed into an occupation, she said.

“It was more of a natural hobby … I liked it to begin with, even things like birthday parties,” she said.

Similar to Feeler’s situation, Stegeman constantly faces many deadlines for planning projects and events.

“Sometimes, deadlines are something that’s out of your control. It’s stressful to make sure you’re not letting anybody down. It’s challenging to keep it all together,” she said.

With an overall monetary responsibility of fundraising $700 million per year with Special Olympics, Stegeman acknowledged that the financial aspect of her job can be challenging.

“It’s a stress to not spend more than you need to and to not waste the funds that you’re given so that we can support our athletes,” she said.

Stegeman manages anxiety by putting her daily priorities into perspective and taking an occasional respite from work-related tasks, she said.

“I keep it in check with the bigger picture. You realize there’s not anything that can’t be fixed. Sometimes you just have to walk away and go out in the sunshine and take a drive around the block,” she said.

Stegeman considers flexibility a crucial quality of a successful event planner.

“You’ve got to be flexible in dealing with people and details. You have to enjoy getting to know other people’s personalities,” she said.

Despite the obstacles of meeting deadlines and working with others on planning events, Stegeman has relished her career at Special Olympics, she said.

“One of the biggest joys is watching and learning from law enforcement when they make a difference in an athlete’s life. It’s really enjoyable to work with people you care about and who share in that mission with you. I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said.

Dealing with job stress

Jill Lillard, licensed professional counselor and co-owner of Lifesong for Growth & Wellness in Jefferson City, sees many clients suffering from work-related stress, usually as one part of their overall anxiety, she said.

Lillard said workers often experience stress when factors outside of their control are negatively affecting their jobs.

Though added anxiety impels some workers to prosper, it paralyzes the productivity of others, she said.

“Cortisol and adrenaline starts pumping through your body to make you strong to get the job done, and some people thrive on that. For some people, your body is geared up to do something but if there’s nothing to be done … all of that energy has nowhere to go so it goes to worry … which is useless,” she said.

Anxiety often manifests itself in insomnia and “excessive worrying,” Lillard said.

Lillard recommended “direct communication with those who impact your job” and “having clarity in asking what you need” when the problem is fixable through changes that can be made at the workplace.

“The big thing is realizing what you can and can’t control. Focus on what you can do and let the other stuff go,” she said.

While consuming caffeine, added sugar and smoking epitomize unhealthy ways in which to deal with stress, they represent negative aspects of a positive method of mitigating stress: taking a break, Lillard said.

“Really why smoking helps is you’re giving yourself a chance to stop and breathe. It’s recognizing that it’s taking a break and breathing that really helps,” she said.

Lillard endorsed several different methods for dealing with work-related stress, including taking deep breaths and envisioning a peaceful location.

The technique of visualizing a calm situation can help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, Lillard said.

“With all the details, the brain doesn’t know the difference between if you’re really experiencing or imagining. You can take a vacation at work if you find a spot for five minutes to close your eyes,” she said.

Relaxing for a few minutes per day may even improve productivity in the workplace, Lillard said.

“Sometimes if we can pace ourselves, we can have better focus. To stop and take a breath isn’t a waste of time, it refuels you,” she said.

Though allowing a co-worker to vent may feel like a helpful gesture, “you don’t want to feed into the negativity … and reinforce the victim mentality,” she said.

Many workplaces have benefits for some free counselling sessions of which employees are not often aware, Lillard said.

Lillard acknowledged the inevitability of stress in a variety of career fields.

“Whatever you’re doing, there are things that fill you up and energize you about your job. But every job is going to have its stressors,” Lillard said.

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I’m stressed too!

Are you in a career that should have made it on the list? Email us at news@newstribune.com or post your reason in the comments with the story online. We’ll include some of your answers — using only your first names — in next week’s Style feature.

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CareerCast.com chose its top 10 most stressful jobs of 2014. They are:

  1. Enlisted military personnel
  2. Military general
  3. Firefighter
  4. Airline pilot
  5. Event coordinator
  6. Public relations executive
  7. Corporate executive (senior)
  8. Newspaper reporter
  9. Police officer
  10. Taxi driver

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