Managing Stress While Flying the Line

Health Watch

By ALPA Staff

There’s no denying that stress is a part of life for airline pilots. Commuting, corporate cultures, operational challenges, and even personal matters can trigger physical and emotional responses. According to a 2020 survey conducted by FlightGlobal and GOOSE Recruitment, which involved more than 1,300 airline pilots from around the world, flying for a living can be both demanding and stressful due to the “high consequence” nature of the job. In addition, participants cited job security, the COVID-19 pandemic, and management as other sources of anxiety.

In its most basic form, stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension created by an experience or thought. Your body reacts by releasing hormones that heighten your awareness, increase your pulse, and cause your muscles to tense up. In the short term, these reactions can be positive because they can assist you in focusing on and addressing challenging situations. However, chronic levels of stress can negatively affect your health and cognitive functioning.

Managing stress can be achieved by recognizing the circumstances that make you feel anxious or irritated and avoiding them when possible. In addition, there are steps you can take to bolster your natural defenses. For example, daily exercise produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall health.

Consuming a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats can help reduce stress and boost your mood. Limiting your intake of processed meats, high-sugar foods, alcohol, and caffeine is also beneficial.

Getting plenty of sleep and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises, are other good defenses. Visiting with friends and family and setting aside time for activities you enjoy are also helpful. And think about limiting your social media time if negative posts are causing stress and anxiety.

Unfortunately, sometimes coping strategies aren’t always sufficient. If you still feel uneasy or apprehensive, ask yourself the following questions: Have you noticed a loss of interest in your work or other aspects of life? Does it feel like nothing matters? Has your self-esteem declined? Are these feelings interfering with your concentration, sleep, appetite, energy level, or daily behavior? If your response to any of these questions is “yes,” ALPA has a program to help you get back on track.

Pilot Peer Support (PPS) provides a network of pilot volunteers who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to speak with you over the telephone about issues or circumstances affecting your life, including financial challenges, family or relationship difficulties, or any other personal or work matters. PPS pilot volunteers listen and offer confidential, nonjudgmental support. If your ALPA group has an independent support line, those groups continue to operate under ALPA PPS. To speak with a PPS volunteer, call

  • ALPA National PPS: 309-PPS-ALPA (309-777-2572).
  • Canadian Pilot Assistance: 309-PPS-ALPA (309-777-2572).
  • Delta PAN: 800-673-7150.
  • FedEx Express PATH: 866-FDX-ALPA.
  • JetBlue PAN/PPS: 309-PPS-ALPA.
  • United SOAR: 866-653-SOAR.

F/O John Taylor (United), ALPA’s Pilot Assistance Group chair, observes, “If you’re having difficulty with any aspect of life, call and talk with a trained volunteer who’s familiar with the pilot lifestyle as well as the many resources the Association provides. Sometimes resolving a problem can be as simple as speaking with a pilot peer who’ll listen and who understands firsthand what you’re experiencing.” Communications with peer support volunteers aren’t reportable on medical applications to the FAA or Transport Canada.

PPS is a component of ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Pilot Assistance Group. Other Pilot Assistance programs include Aeromedical, which addresses medical certification and at-work environmental health issues; the Critical Incident Response Program (CIRP), which deals with pilot stress reactions to accidents or serious incidents; the Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS), which addresses alcohol and substance abuse and addiction; Professional Standards, which mediates cases of interpersonal conflicts; and Pilot Assistance-Canada (including the Aircrew Recovery Canada program), which offers comparable programs for ALPA’s Canadian members.

Pilot Peer Support is one more example of how the Association’s many programs and services are designed to facilitate pilots helping pilots.

Mental Wellness and Medical Certification Questions?

Have more questions regarding mental well-being? U.S. ALPA members can contact the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, ALPA’s Aeromedical Office, at 303-341-4435, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. mountain time to speak with a physician. Canadian members are encouraged to call Canadian Pilot Peer Support at 309-777-2572.

What is Pilot Peer Support?

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This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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