By Larry Buhl, Monster Contributing Writer
Chronic job stress, which the World Health Organization has called a "worldwide epidemic," is not the occasional aggravation of a dysfunctional copier or an annoying coworker. It's the energy-draining, psyche-straining, day-to-day mental grind that results in accidents, insomnia, irritability, fatigue and an overall lower quality of life.
But work doesn't have to stress you out. There are dozens of low-stress jobs available across a wide variety of fields, according to Laurence Shatkin, career information expert and author of 150 Best Low-Stress Jobs. And the vast majority of those jobs have good growth potential and good wages as well, says Shatkin.
Reaction to stressors is idiosyncratic. Some find the pressure of exactitude debilitating, others thrive on it. Some can't handle conflict, while others take arguments in stride.
Hate Time Pressure?
Archivists, who plan and oversee the arrangement of exhibitions, have a more leisurely pace of work than many other professions. The median annual archivist salary in 2010 was $45,200, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Prefer a Short Workweek?
Massage therapists and fitness trainers work fewer hours per week than any other professionals. These fields are growing fast as well, although the pay is less than many other fields. Many positions are contract, without benefits (which some people could find stressful). The median annual massage therapist salary was $34,900 in 2010, according to the BLS. Fitness trainers earned a median of $31,090.
Don't Want to Look Over Your Shoulder?
Environmental scientists enjoy lower competition than professionals in many other fields. The career also offers an enviable 25 percent job growth rate and a median salary of $61,700, according to BLS data.
Want Freedom from the Bottom Line?
Mathematicians and sociologists -- with median salaries of $99,380 and $72,360, respectively -- have to worry less about the impact their decisions have on company results.
Run from Unpleasant People?
You may be more comfortable working with plans (marine engineers earn median salaries of $79,920) or theories (physicists earn median salaries of $106,370).
To choose a low-stress job or career, it's important to consider what you can and can't abide, according to Andrea Moselle, senior manager of work-life at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. "Any job can be stressful or not, depending on how you view it," she says.
De-Stress Your Current Job
Not everyone can find a great low-stress job quickly. If you're at wit's end now, there are several ways to take the edge off your work situation:
- Look at Your Own Attitudes: While it might seem like the job itself is the culprit, experts suggest changing your attitudes and the way you adapt -- or don't adapt -- to job stressors. "If you're confident in yourself and positive about the world and open to new solutions, you'll find it easier to be resilient to stressful situations," Moselle says.
- Gain Control: Psychologists agree that when people experience less stress, they have some degree of control over their environment. Even if it's something as simple as organizing your messy desk at the end of the day, or making a list of tasks, you'll not only clear up the mental clutter, but also gain a sense of mastery and control over your job.
- Get Physical: Physical occupations such as massage therapist are considered low stress, Shatkin says, largely because it's harder to build up stress-generated adrenalin when you're moving around.
What if you have a sedentary job? After a contentious meeting, make time to walk around the block or around the building. Go beyond the stress ball and move your whole body, even if it's for a minute or two. Not only will you experience a decrease in stress-releasing chemicals like cortisol, but you may also get a fitness boost.
- Track Your Accomplishments: A common denominator of many low-stress jobs is tangible results. Construction is considered a lower-stress job in many ways because workers clearly see the fruits of their labors. If, like many, you have a job without a clear tangible output, Shatkin suggests keeping a tally of your accomplishment or positive testimonial letters or emails from colleagues and customers.
"Besides adding to a sense of accomplishment, all of these documents can be useful at performance-appraisal time or for assembling a portfolio when job seeking," he says.
- Join an Employee Network: Groups that help employees who care for children or elderly parents, for example, are thriving in many companies. "These networks are a great way to find support and networking and mentoring help, as well as finding the tools to take some of the stress away on the job and off the job," Moselle says.
- Make Your Needs Known: Most companies have some feedback mechanisms for letting employees vent constructively. Whether you need childcare services, flextime, fewer interruptions in your schedule or a change in workflow, Moselle suggests taking advantage of all opportunities to share ways of reducing your stress.