Most jobs are stressful. When you're an hour away from the deadline for that spreadsheet of "value-adding actionable items" and your boss is breathing down your neck, your anxiety level is going to be pretty high.
Luckily, there are a lot of ways to relieve stress at work. One of the best is by putting your situation into perspective. For example, ask yourself: "Is the world going to end if it takes me an extra hour to finish this project?" Answering questions like this helps to give us a more realistic perception of our stress, once we realize our Excel spreadsheet won't be saving -- or costing -- any lives.
But you have to wonder about the people who have jobs that come with so much pressure that doing them well actually is matter of life or death (or at least company livelihood). What makes it possible to cope with that kind of stress on a daily basis? While some people may just be hard-wired to revel in life's pressure cookers, it probably doesn't hurt that a lot of high-stress jobs come with an equally high paycheck.
Below, seven jobs that are -- literally -- worth the stress.
The stressors: Every day is a life or death situation for surgeons, so stress comes with the territory. Surgeons are also expected to be on call -- sometimes 24 hours a day -- and to drop whatever they are doing to get to the hospital.
The workweek: Forty-three percent of surgeons work more than 50 hours per week.*
The salary: $219,770**
The stressors: The success -- or failure -- of a company is often attributed to the CEO. Take the recent BP disaster, for example. CEO Tony Hayward took the brunt of the world's blame and criticism for his company's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, causing Hayward to resign. When things don't go well at a company, all fingers point to its chief executive.
The workweek: It's not uncommon for chief executives to work more than 50 hours per week. Frequent travel and work on evenings and weekends also come with the executive territory.
The salary: $167,280, though the compensation packages for chief executives often include stock options and bonuses, meaning total earnings can be much higher.
The stressors: Long hours, public speaking, and the pressure to win their clients' cases all contribute to the high stress levels of being an attorney.
The workweek: One-third of lawyers work more than 50 hours per week.
The salary: $129,020
The stressors: These days, most companies depend on technology. It's impossible to do many jobs without an Internet connection or properly functioning computer software. Computer and information systems managers ensure that a company's computer-related functions operate efficiently and smoothly -- so if there's a computer crash or a system outage, guess who gets the frantic phone calls?
The workweek: Twenty-five percent report working more than 50 hours per week.
The salary: $120,640
The stressors: From passenger safety to a smooth flight and an on-time arrival, pilots have a lot of responsibility. Add in all the "what ifs" that come with flying (remember Capt. Chesley Sullenburger, who successfully ditched U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in New York's Hudson River in January 2009, saving the lives of all 155 people on the plane?) and it's not hard to see why flying is stressful.
The workweek: Pilots spend an average of 90 hours per week away from home. Though they are not flying all 90 hours -- pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month -- they spend considerable time performing nonflight duties and are often away from their homes, staying in airport hotels between flights.
The salary: $117,060
The stressors: Customers trust financial managers to make smart, profitable decisions with their money. A loss on an investment may mean the loss of a client or even a job.
The workweek: One in five work more than 50 hours per week.
The salary: $113,730
The stressors: Public relations officials must constantly be aware of how their company or client is being perceived in the media, which often involves damage control. PR executives also deal with the media, answering reporters' tough questions about company layoffs or scandals. If the PR person says the wrong thing or can't smooth over a company crisis quickly enough, it can spell disaster for both his company and his job.
The workweek: More than 80 percent work more than 40 hours per week.
The salary: $101,850
* Average workweek information as of May 2009, according to the BLS.
** Salary information as of May 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.