Good pointers Andy, stress is one of the much hidden killers
I will add something from experience though, in your "rumors of layoffs" examples you say "companies usually lay off the bottom tier of employees first". Well usually they do, in one role I found my self being in the unusal category when the company decided that the network admin and a developer could do the DBA job.
The best part was about 4 months after being laid off when they me asked back to do some DBA consulting/cleanup work. Their database backups had been failing for weeks and no-one had done anything about it and they consequently lost a pile of data. After sucking them dry for a week or two I knocked back their offer of my old job back
On becoming a contractor/consultant rather than an employee to reduce stress. Well I suppose that really depends on how you feel about contracting and what sort of contracts you get. If you're only getting short 3 month contracts, then I'd say you're more likely to be adding to your stress. On the other hand if you get a nice long 12 month contract, well need I say more ... $$$ ...
Loved the article and glad to have the information from another point of view. I have been in the field for over 30 years and have seen people come and go. Many left early and went into other lines of work. Burn out was a problem and still is.
As professionals we need to realize that a shooting star is bright and folks see it but is short lived. And remember that it is better to take time now rather then meds later.
Yes I have worked more the 40/week and been on call, developed business critical, realtime projects in very demanding situations, and through all that I have learned if I do not take the time I need for myself and my family then I have nothing to give to any one.
After all this maybe I should take the rest of the day off.
I think it is important to note that stress can cause physical sickness. To get technical, mental stress causes oxidative stress, which can cause premature aging, reduced immune system effectiveness, and is the leading factor in most degenerative diseases. This can be combated by a good solid nutritional program including a good balanced diet, quality nutritional supplements and plenty of extra anti-oxidants. So diet and lifestyle choices can have a major impact on how mental stress affects your life long term.
I agree that being a contractor has less stress at work. I don't have to worry about company politices, gossip (usually no one cares about contractor), review, competition except I worry about the length of my contract and if I will get another contract if the existing contract ends.
The best thing is if the company want me to work overtime, I get paid. Now being an employee, I don't get a dime even I work 60 hours a week.