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Training aviation pros how to manage stress on the job? That’s a piece of cake. But how about facing personal threats—like a threat to job security? Or worse, when the job goes away entirely? Now that’s tough.

In 2020, our industry experienced countless reasons for major stress. With a pandemic at hand, we’ve seen restricted flight hours and travel destinations. We’ve also seen company layoffs, slowdowns, reorganizations and furloughs. Plus, sold or parked airplanes, bankruptcies and business closures.

That’s a lot of increased pressure on our professionals.

How to Manage Stress Physically

There’s an important physical component to managing stress. So, if you find yourself in a stressful situation, there are ways to handle it.

  • Stay fit for duty! Exercise every day. Maintain or begin an exercise program because endorphins are a natural mood booster.
  • Limit your exposure to COVID-19. Follow CDC guidelines and please get your flu shot.
  • Eat healthy. You don’t have to spend excessive amounts of money to eat well.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Many find it helps to keep their regular business and bedtime hours.
  • Schedule your annual physical, eye exams, dental visits and preventative cancer screenings.
  • Avoid increased or excessive use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs.

How to Manage Stress Mentally & Emotionally

Emotions, too, can take over—especially, when we temporarily lose some control of our professional life. Having a good mental health or attitude can help pull you through this trying time. As novelist Sir Walter Scott said, “For success, attitude is equally as important as ability.”

The signs of emotional distress are well-documented. They include: depression, loneliness, anxiety, pessimism and frustration. Other indicators are isolation, shame and suicidal thoughts.

My former colleague at MedAire, Dr. Paulo Alves, agrees that we all need to address this topic. He notes, “This new stress is somewhat like what we experience when we learn how to drive a car for the first time. As we become more comfortable with our ability to handle it, we realize the stress we felt at first diminishes.”

“Likewise,” Alves adds, “when we first encountered this virus, we were uncertain. It was something out of our control. But now we’re learning how to better maneuver the external factors of these stressors.”

Try and remember that you’re not alone in this. Because of the events of 2020, almost everyone we know feels more stress. The main goal is not to give up on yourself. Instead:

  • Talk with your family and friends or seek professional help*. Venting is okay!
  • Tap your employee assistance programs, if they’re still available to you.
  • Don’t let these feelings consume and overwhelm you. Remember, you are not at fault.
  • Focus on the future and the fact that we all know this will get better.
  • And, being of service to others will in turn help you. Think of the people who might appreciate your call or text or email. You might be surprised what a difference it can make for them—and for you.

Out-of-work Tensions

The typical stressors for unemployed aviation professionals have changed dramatically. But few, if any, train to manage that heightened personal stress. Especially, when it’s well beyond their control.

Some of the pandemic-related stressors are becoming more commonplace. A spouse may now work from home or be unexpectedly out of work. The dining room may have suddenly become an online classroom. Yet, someone has to venture out to buy groceries and then, cook nearly every meal. And, the bills still need to be paid.

Consequently, relationships are being tested every day.

My Crystal Ball

A few weeks ago, a recently laid-off business aviation pilot called. He asked me when I thought the job market was going to be back to the days of “pilot shortage” in 2019. Looking at my crystal globe paperweight on my desk, I wanted to tell him the magic date was “next Wednesday.”

Instead, we talked about the stress he’s going through. And we discussed a few ways for him to face his current challenges.

Like so many talented aviation professionals, he doesn’t want to sound negative. Yet, he has real concerns. Understandably, he’s sad and frustrated. What he thought would be his “retirement job” for the next eight years, ended this summer. The executives’ travel decreased and to cut costs, the company sold the plane. Thus, the three-person flight crew and the two maintenance personnel lost their jobs. His last flight was to deliver the airplane to the new owner.

It’s a regretful scenario that’s becoming all too common.

There is some sunlight ahead, however. Experts predict business aviation will find recovery faster than the airlines. Thankfully, there’s a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon. Borders will open, travel restrictions will lift and international corporate flights will resume. But the bottom line is that there still is no clear recovery date etched into my crystal ball. And that uncertainty is a further stressor.

How to Manage Stress During a Job Search

Despite the light at the end of the tunnel, business aviation’s recovery won’t be overnight. But preparation will make a big difference. Flight department staff can take full advantage of this “down time,” so they can hit the ground running.

Likewise, those out of work and seeking jobs shouldn’t wait either. The idea is to be ready with a plan. Some of the things you can do:

  • Identify where you want to work and why. Look for a culture that will inspire you to be your best self.
  • Take advantage of career coaching or an outplacement service.
  • Update your resume.
  • Set up or revise your LinkedIn profile.
  • Practice interview questions and do a mock interview.
  • Join a local/regional aviation association and network with personal contacts.
  • Become a NBAA Professional member to use their member directory and resources.
  • Apply to become an API Registered Professional.™ (It’s free!).
  • Take a “bridge job” to help pay those bills.
  • Educate yourself by reading and/or taking free online courses—especially on hot topics such as diversity and inclusion. This important issue is discussed in almost every interview—and is great knowledge to have for an internal promotion. (We recommend these 7 LinkedIn courses).

Realistic Planning

Taking control of your day-to-day activity regarding a job search will give you a greater sense of well-being. So, plan your day to have a good balance. Devote a certain number of hours to finding a job, but don’t forget to find time to have some fun, too. For example, in the morning, scan job listings and submit applications. Make phone calls and write networking emails. Then, in the afternoon, read a book, go hiking or complete a puzzle with your family.

But, also be realistic about the jobs you’re willing and able to take. For example, if an open position requires a relocation and you’re unable to move, cross it off your list. Or, likewise, if your skills and experience really don’t match a potential employer, don’t waste your time (or theirs).

Create Positive Energy by Staying Busy

Right now, things can seem somewhat hopeless. How do you manage your stress while waiting for your next—“perfect”—aviation job? Try some of these ideas to generate some positive energy:

  • Take a class. (Apply for an aviation scholarship to defray the cost).
  • Mentor an aviation student or author an article for an aviation publication or blog.
  • Consider studying for a higher degree or your NBAA CAM Certification.
  • Start a new hobby.
  • Start a journal and make daily entries.
  • Take advantage of your “free time” to tackle some of those projects you might have put on the back burner.
  • Volunteer in your community or your church.
  • Read a book or start/finish writing your novel.
  • Clean out and organize the garage, closet, basement, attic, car, etc.

Keep it All in Perspective!

With all this advice, try and remember the main goal—the rationale. And that is, as companies start to fly again, operators will need to fill in any staffing gaps. And, as first-time owners take delivery of their airplanes, they’ll need experienced staff.

So, whether you’re a pilot, flight attendant, dispatcher or maintenance technician, you need to be ready. And, in planning for that, we encourage you to tap every available resource. That way, you’ll be at your best—mentally and physically—when the time comes.

If you have tips for managing stress, please share them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


*In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255

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