Stress is a term used to describe the body's non-specific response to demands placed on it, whether these demands are pleasant or unpleasant in nature. The demands on a pilot can range from unexpected windshear encountered on a landing to a lost wallet. Piloting an aircraft is the pilot's responsibility. Therefore, a healthy pilot should perform at his/her optimum level and make decisions to the best of his/her ability. Numerous physical and physiological conditions in a pilot's personal and professional life, as well as the nature of flight itself, can hamper this ability. Even though a pilot holds a medical certificate stating that the pilot meets the health requirements for a particular type of flight operation, the decision whether the pilot is fit to fly is strictly the pilot's.
HOW MUCH STRESS IS IN YOUR LIFE?
If you hope to succeed at reducing stress associated with crisis management in the air or with your job, it is essential to begin by making a personal assessment of stress in all areas of your life. You may face major stressors such as a loss of income, serious illness, death of a family member, change in residence or birth of a baby, plus a multitude of comparatively minor positive and negative stressors. These major and minor stressors have a cumulative effect which constitutes your total stress-adaption capability which can vary from year to year. Each of us has personal stress-adaption limitations. When we exceed this level, stress overload may lead to poor health or illness.
IS STRESS BAD?
Stress is a response to a set of circumstances that induces a change in a pilot's current physiological and/or psychological patterns of functioning forcing the pilot to adapt to these changes. Stress is an inevitable and necessary part of life that adds motivation to life and heightens a pilot's response to meet any challenge. In fact, performance of a task will generally improve with the onset of stress, but will peak and then begin to degrade rapidly as stress levels exceed a pilot's adaptive abilities to handle the situation.
HANDLING STRESS IN FLYING
Accidents often occur when flying task requirements exceed a pilot's capabilities. A. superior pilot uses superior judgment to avoid stressful situations which might call for use of superior skills. The difference between pilot capabilities and task requirements is the margin of safety.
Stress is insidious
Stress has a gradual and cumulative effect that develops slowly, so slowly that stress can be well established before becoming apparent. A pilot may think that he/she is handling everything quite well, when in fact there are subtle signs that the pilot is beyond his/her ability to respond appropriately.
Stress is cumulative
A generalized stress reaction can develop as a result of accumulated stress. There is a limit to a pilot's adaptive nature. This limit, the stress tolerance level is based on a pilot's ability to cope with the situation. If the number or intensity of the stressors becomes too great, the pilot is susceptible to an environmental overload. At this point, a pilot's performance begins to decline and judgment deteriorates.
Signs of inadequate coping
The indicators of excessive stress often show as three types of symptoms:
These symptoms differ depending upon whether aggression is focused inward or outward. Those individuals who typically turn their aggressive feelings inward often demonstrate the emotional symptoms of depression, preoccupation, sadness, and withdrawal. Those individual who typically takes out frustration on other people or objects exhibits few physical symptoms. On the other hand, emotional symptoms may show up as overcompensation, denial, suspicion, paranoia, agitation, restlessness, defensiveness, excess sensitivity to criticism, argumentativeness, arrogance, and hostility.
Life Stress Management
There are many techniques available that can help reduce the stress in your life or help you cope with it better. Not all of the following ideas may be the solution, but some of them should be effective for you.
1. Become knowledgeable about stress itself.
2. Take a realistic assessment of yourself
3. Take a systematic approach to problem-solving.
4. Develop a life style that will buffer against the effects of stress.
5. Practice behavioral management techniques
6. Establish and maintain a strong support network.
Cockpit Stress Management
Good cockpit stress management begins with good life stress management. Many of the stress coping techniques practiced for life stress management are not usually practical in flight. Rather, you must condition yourself to relax and think rationally when stress appears.
The following checklist outlines some thoughts on cockpit stress management[/u]
1. Avoid situations that distract you from flying the aircraft.
2. Reduce your workload to reduce stress levels. This will create a proper environment in which to make good decisions.
3. If an emergency does occur, be calm. Think for a moment, weigh the alternatives, then act.
4. Maintain proficiency in your aircraft; proficiency builds confidence. Familiarize yourself thoroughly with your aircraft, its systems, and emergency procedures.
5. Know and respect your own personal limits
6. Do not let little mistakes bother you until they build into a big thing. Wait until after you land, then debrief and analyse past actions.
7. If flying is adding to your stress, either stop flying or seek professional help to manage your stress within acceptable limits.
A Go/No-Go decision is made before each flight. The pilot should not only pre-flight check the aircraft, but also his/herself on each and every flight. A pilot should ask, Could I pass my medical examination right now? If the pilot cannot answer with an absolute yes, then the pilot should not fly.
The following checklist is intended for a pilot's personal pre-flight use. A pilot may elect to take a copy in his/her flight bag and on board the aircraft.
1. Do I feel well? Is there anything wrong with me at all?
2. Have I taken any medication in the last 12 hours?
3. Have I had as little as one ounce of alcohol in the last 12 hours?
4. Am I tired? Did I get a good nights sleep last night?
5. Am I under undue stress? Am I emotional right now?
6. Have I eaten a sensible meal and taken in a good load of protein? Do I have a
protein snack, such as cheese, meat or nuts, aboard?
7. Am I dehydrated? Do I need to take non-carbonated liquids such as water or fruit juices?
8. Am I equipped with sunglasses, ear protectors, appropriate clothing?
Through courtesy of the FAA
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