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  • Karen Bath

Maintaining Wellbeing and Building Resilience



How do you react when someone talks to you about your ‘wellbeing’, ‘mental health’ or ‘emotional strength’?

I suspect many  readers  will  not have  read  beyond the title of this post. These terms make us feel awkward and we don’t think they apply to us.  But  because you’re still reading, you  probably stand  a greater  chance of remaining resilient throughout this pandemic  and  being  ready to return to the flight deck when opportunities emerge. 

Why? Well, let’s deal with why  people switch off at these terms: Sadly,  there  remains a great deal of stigma around the topics of wellbeing, mental health and emotional strength; particularly among the pilot community.  

What do we mean by these terms?

Wellbeing – consider your wellbeing to be like your heart. If you do what’s required to keep it pumping, you’ll be healthier, both physically and mentally. If you don’t look after it, the opposite is likely... 


Mental Health – note the word health. It isn’t an illness. It’s not something ‘others have’ or something we should only take notice of when we’re struggling. We all have mental health and it’s only healthy if you  look after it.  

Emotional Strength – it’s not  necessarily  a measure of your emotional strength that you retain a ‘stiff upper lip’ in a crisis.  Emotional strength is  our internal capability to  manage  the stresses of daily life  effectively – which  might  mean  shedding tears (not a sign of weakness)  – and  to  recover  quickly  from challenges when they arise.

I would hasten to add here, that wellbeing or emotional concerns are rarely a ‘problem’: the vast majority can be effectively managed  if properly addressed. 

Its apparent many pilots are  nervous  of  speaking up about such topics for fear of  there being  repercussions  on their medical and career opportunities.  The post ‘German Wings’ reaction created a message suggesting if you’re suffering from poor mental health  or struggling with your emotions, you are suicidal and a risk to safety. But, more than often, that is far from the case. In fact,  many agree that  someone speaking about how they feel shows strength and is a positive step towards addressing  a situation before it becomes  more of a concern.  As an example, physically, if you develop a small injury, it is much more likely not to deteriorate if you show the strength to sacrifice your short-term plans for your long-term recovery. 

But – just as we have good and bad days with our physical health,  we all have  good and bad days with our  mental health ; and  multiple ‘bad days’ can lead to  mental  ill- health.  

Ask yourself, do you feel great every day?  What about the days when you have a row with your partner,  or find you’ve overstretched yourself and committed to more than you can ‘chew’?   Or when the traffic backs up on your  journey,  it takes you twice as long, and it sets the day up wrong …. 

Now let’s take the current pandemic situation into account…

You’ve  been made redundant/furloughed or lost sight of  when you will secure your first airline role; someone  you know has been ill, or worse died from COVID;  you’ve  not seen a real human except through zoom or  accepting an ‘Amazon’ delivery  all week…. How do you feel?  Not great?  

And, what happens then? Our ability to cope - our resilience - is  likely  impacted. We under-perform, overreact,  little things irritate us,  and we find ourselves in a downward spiral.  Our emotional health is taking a battering and that can start to affect our wellbeing and mental health.  

Which leads me on nicely to the second part of the ‘why?’ Why does the fact that you are still reading mean you are  more resilient? 

I  submit  that the very fact you are open-minded enough to consider how you’re feeling  Implies  you are open to putting measures in place to respect and protect your wellbeing and, therefore, your mental  health  and emotional  strength. This attitude is a great foundation for building resilience. 

Let’s add another question here – what is this word ‘resilience’ all about?

We hear it bandied around a great deal and many of us would say that the past year has truly tested our ‘resilience’. I’ll  put forward  a definition here – ‘the ability to become strong again after something bad happens’.  Airlines have sought resilience in their pilots for years now, and it’s  going to be more important than ever that you are able to demonstrate resilience when the recovery comes (as it surely will) and you begin attending interviews to return to the flight deck. 

In a recent discussion with a very experienced airline recruiter, she gave an example: “If I have two applicants  for one job and ask each ‘what have you been doing during the pandemic’ and one was to answer ‘Aviation is in my blood, it’s all I want to do. I  knew the industry would recover so just bade my time as I was determined  I  would fly  again’, and the other’s answer was ‘I had to support my family, so I found alternative employment  and learned new skills,  but  I  stayed in touch with aviation  as much as possible by reviewing my manuals,  connecting with people in the industry and keeping my skills up to date as best I could’; I would be far more inclined to offer the job to the 2nd  applicant  for demonstrating resilience.” Enough said there. 

Resilience is about  being self-motivated and grabbing hold of opportunities. You need to be  fit and healthy, both mentally and physically  to be able to do  this successfully, so look after your wellbeing to ensure you have the strength to bounce back when the tougher days hit. 

Remember these 5 steps to wellbeing:

  1. Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing

  2. Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness

  3. Learning new skills will help boost self-confidence 

  4. Give to others – acts of kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing (try volunteering perhaps)

  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

(For more information and help, visit websites such as nhs.uk, mind.org.uk )

There is a positive drive in the airline world to reduce the stigma surrounding  wellbeing and mental health.  New regulation is being introduced  this summer which will  require  AOC holders to have a robust Peer Support Programme in place  to support their pilots.  However, despite there being strict practices to protect  confidentiality,  there remains distrust  among the pilot community  who worry if they share their concerns, their  jobs will be at risk. 

And  what of those pilots not  under the care of an AOC - Those who have been made redundant or not yet secured their first airline role? Furthermore,  many pilots still employed are also struggling; feeling vulnerable  about  working in an unstable profession and guilty about still flying when so many of their colleagues have lost their jobs.   

This is where Resilient Pilot can help. 


We are a not-for-profit organisation, set up in direct response to COVID to help  keep pilots supported, current and connected.  We  are  independent of operators and ATOs but  align with Regulator guidelines.  We offer mentoring, coaching and a wide range of  predominantly free  resources  to help pilots  look after their wellbeing, maintain competencies, learn new skills,  explore career options or  navigate their way back to the flight deck when recruitment recommences.

 Stay  well.  Stay connected.  Stay  resilient. 

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