Stress score: 14
My stress: Weddings are so once-in-a-lifetime. It’s this huge family affair, and there’s a lot of pressure on brides. Sometimes you feel like you’re a family therapist.
How I cope: When you’re starting out, you say yes to everything. One year, I did 24 weddings. I’ve since learned that I can do between 12 and 14 a year without feeling overwhelmed.
I take Sunday and Monday off. I close the office and don’t answer my business phone or check my e-mail. I don’t even turn on the computer because it’s too tempting to click into e-mail. I set boundaries ahead of time with clients, so they know if they call or e-mail me on a weekend, I won’t get back to them until Tuesday.
Bruce Boudreau, coach of the Washington Capitals
Stress score: 17
My stress: My job is about winning. And I’ve got to make a lot of decisions in the course of the day, so you second-guess yourself sometimes. I think about my job 24 hours a day. But I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.
How I cope: This is what I’ve been doing for 35 years, and pressure is just part of it. When you give a shit about everything that happens, you want to be in control and make sure the right stuff is going on. So you go over it and over it and over it. If that’s stress—well then, so be it.
Ernie Jarvis, managing director of CB Richard Ellis’s DC office
Stress score: 16
My stress: The last three years have been tumultuous in the commercial real-estate business. It feels like the market is getting better, but we’re not out of the woods. You’re always nervous because of the prospects of a double-dip recession.
How I cope: Nearly every weekend, I’m in Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve got a boat, a 35-foot Falcon. It’s about an 85-mile-an-hour boat on the water, which is like driving 160 miles an hour in a car. There’s no room for error. You are absolutely focused on the next wave in front of you.
I have two boys, eight and ten years old. At the end of the day for three seconds when they run over and jump on Daddy, whatever stress I have immediately subsides. You live for that moment. That’s what drives my life. It’s only for three seconds, but it is awe-inspiring.
Wendell Cunningham, sniper for DC Metropolitan Police Department
Stress score: 10
My stress: When that pager goes off, my adrenaline goes up real quick. When I get to the scene and find out it’s a hostage situation, it’s going to be high stress until we get that person out.
The adrenaline makes me think of alternatives to using deadly force. I think, “What else could we try to defuse the situation?” My guys are on the same page.
I’ve been involved in situations where I’ve had to discharge my weapon. About 10 or 15 years ago, this guy kidnapped two kids because his girlfriend broke up with him. He barricaded himself with the two kids in an attic. He dumped gasoline on them and threatened to kill them. All of a sudden, we saw a large ball of fire. He’d lit the place on fire. The boy broke loose and we grabbed him, and then the girl tried to break loose, but I saw him reach down with a match to set her on fire. I discharged my weapon, striking him.
The first thing that comes to your mind is, “Did I have to shoot? Could I have done something different?” But I did what I had to do.
How I cope: I run a lot and like to lift weights. I’ve competed in the World Police & Fire Games for 12 years.
My wife asks me how my day was, but I usually don’t want to talk about it. If something really good happened, fine, but I’m not going to tell you we had a suspect who poured gasoline on his kids and lit the place on fire. So when she asks, I say, “Can we talk about something different?”
Monica Sakala, Silver Spring stay-at-home mom with two daughters, ages two and five
Stress score: 13
My stress: When I worked, there was a level of consistency: You knew how many meetings you were going to have, how long your day was going to be, what deadlines were coming up. What causes stress in my day now is the unexpected—things like lice infestation, stomach viruses, fighting between siblings, battles to put on coats, abrupt hatred of all pajamas in the house.
On rough days, I remind myself that it is a privilege to be at home with my children. That can get away from you when you’re with them every day.
How I cope: Carving out enough time for myself is difficult. To make sure I get it in, five days a week I get up at 6 to run. That time is the only guarantee I’ve got.
For the last few years, I’ve kept a blog (wiredmomma.com). Sometimes I’ll complain or vent, and it’s reassuring when people leave comments that they feel the same way. And sometimes I’ll write something funny—that’s cathartic, too.
All photographs by Chris Leaman.
This article first appeared in the December 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.