Being a pilot is a rewarding profession, but it comes with a significant amount of liability. Airline pilots are responsible for safety of literally thousands of passengers every year. Even single engine aircraft pilots face stressful situations during the flights. Everyone will agree that pilots are some of the most trusted people in any profession because of their education and skill set, but sometimes stress can cause situations too difficult to cope with. What are the main causes of stress and how to handle it in a pilot’s job?
Source of stress
Some sources of stress are specific to a pilot job. Others are generic. Typical stress sources are fatigue, irregular working hours and jet lag. A pilot is often required to stay focused and sharp for a very long period of time. Also, they are expected to be able to fly at all times of the week, both day and night. That kind of pace of life could be a challenge for anyone!
In addition to that there are several other stress factors that are specific to a pilot career. Weather conditions can be extremely unpredictable, so there is no time to mentally prepare for surprises. Responsibility is placed on the pilot’s shoulders every minute of the flight, so the thought that you are in charge of several hundred people’s lives never leaves.
How to handle stress?
Stress affects human performance in two major ways. In some situations, stress could become an energizer, which increases human performance capabilities. In other situations, stress could seriously and adversely affect human performance. What to do in order to avoid such situations at cockpit, where each and every movement is crucial?
- Clear your head before the flight. A few minutes of deep breathing could restore the balance. It equals 3 minutes yoga class in front of the cockpit. Try to program yourself with good emotions and positivity.
- Eat well! The choice of food can have a huge impact on how you feel. Eating small, frequent and healthy meals can help keep up the energy, stay focused, and avoid mood swings. The symptoms of drowsiness may occur when blood sugar is low or stomach is too full.
- Break bad habits by avoiding nicotine and alcohol. Smoking when a person is feeling stressed out may seem to produce a calming effect, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher levels of anxiety. Likewise, alcohol temporarily reduces worry, but it causes more anxiety when it wears off. In general, it is better to avoid alcohol completely in a pilot’s job.
- Try to get enough sleep even work schedule is very irregular. When a person is well-rested, it is much easier to achieve emotional balance and remain vigilant. Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime. Try to focus on quiet, soothing activities, such as reading or listening to soft music, while keeping the lights low.
- Exercise is a powerful stress reliever! Try walking, dancing, swimming, or playing ping pong with other crew member. Focusing on the body and how it feels could distract stressful thoughts. Adding a mindfulness element to the routine can help the nervous system become “unstuck” and rest from the huge responsibility.
Why human beings feel stress?
All living creatures experience stress of some type each and every day, and that is why it is important to understand the effect of stress on human performance.
In the XIX century Hungarian-born researcher Hans Selye discovered that the human body experiences two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is experienced by the body as positive stress. An example of eustress is laughing while watching a movie or playing football with a friend in the yard. Distress is perceive as negative stress by our body. Some common examples of distress that might be experienced by anyone are fatigue, huge work load, or facing contingencies.
A natural psychical response to destress is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. It is located in the lower part of human brain and controls breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and balance. The “fight or flight” response is so basic to human behavior that it can be called instinctual since it spontaneously activates whenever our brain senses danger in any form. Different reactions include the release of different chemical hormones. For example, after adrenaline falls into the bloodstream the body’s metabolic rate increases. The blood is redirected away from the stomach and digestive tract to supply the muscles in the arms and legs with more oxygen. Heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, blood sugar, and perspiration all increase under stressful conditions. So, the body prepares itself to “fight or flight”.