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:
Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing
Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness
Learning new skills will help boost self-confidence
Give to others – acts of kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing (try volunteering perhaps)
Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
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.