The Stress Factor

Health and Safety

The Stress Factor

Lack of job security and strict safety regulations affect mental health, writes Sara Garity

By Sara GarityBy Joan Bittel>

October 2002

Stress is a subject that is often ignored on both a personal and professional level. People may feel ashamed, see it as a personal sign of weakness, or worry about repercussions in their workplace. This may be especially true within the aviation industry.

"Currently, stress for employees has been amplified because all eyes are on the airline industry at the moment," says Professor Robert Bor, an Aviation Psychologist who works at the Royal Free Hospital, London, England. "Airlines don't want to make potential passengers feel anxious over the mental health of their employees."

However, stress has the potential to become a serious mental health issue if it isn't recognized and dealt with properly.

TYPES OF STRESS

1. Anticipatory: Concerns over the future
(What if…? Am I ready?)

2. Situational: Concerns for the moment
(newness and magnitude.)

3. Chronic: Worry over time
(I thought this would end sooner or later.)

4. Residual: Unresolved issues from previous incidents.

DEFINING THE STRESS FACTOR
Stress can be either positive or negative. When it is positive, caused by excitement or a positive event, it is called eustress. Negative stress, which is much more common, is called distress. Distress represents a physiological imbalance that could cause moderate to severe physical and emotional problems.

"Some stress is desirable," says Bor. "Some high levels of stress are even acceptable, but when a threshold is reached, stress effects performance and well-being."

Work, money, personal difficulties, and health complications (physical or psychological) are a few main causes of stress. With the new expectations brought about by the events of September 11, 2001 the work environment has changed dramatically for the ground service providers.

"Employees are experiencing a high level of stress due to lack of job security and all of the new safety precautions that employees are now taking more responsibility for," explains Bor.

Stricter deadlines, high turnover, and customer satisfaction are other factors influencing an employees work environment.

"People are put in a position of greater responsibility and are more burdened causing more stress," says Bor. "People in junior positions may be bullied or coerced into doing more work than they can handle. They feel an added pressure to perform."

According to Bor, dry, sensitive skin, high blood pressure, and increased alcohol or recreational drug use are additional signs that you are enduring too much stress. You may also become argumentative, irritable, begin making mistakes on the job, and have interferences with your relationships. "Eventually, what happens, once a threshold is crossed," says Bor, "is the quality of your tasks deteriorate."

ARE YOU IN TROUBLE?

The effects of stress are unpredictable. Mental and physical reactions vary from one person to another. According to the National Mental Health Association, mental stress may cause you to worry about money, loved ones, a death, or problems at work. You may be feeling overwhelmed, experiencing a loss of sleep, or eating a poor diet. However, understanding some of the signs of stress can give you an early warning. A few things to look for include:

- Body systems begin to malfunctions as energy reserves are drained.
- Disruptions in eating, sleeping, and sexual activity occur.
- Error in judgment occurs more frequently.
- Generalized anxiety, poor concentration, and memory loss.
- Increased irritability.
- Frequent headaches, ulcers, and sweaty or cold hands.
- Breathing difficulties.

Source: Grey Owl Aviation Consultants, www.greyowl.com/articles/stress_article.ml

TAKING CONTROL
There are techniques and coping skills that you can develop to help eliminate or reduce stress. According to Aviation Psychologist, Professor Robert Bor:

  • Recognize that you have a problem. "Admit that you are feeling stressed."
  • Manage your stress. Notify others. "You don't need to use the word 'stress'. Say, 'This is what I am experiencing and this is what I am unable to do."
  • Be accountable. "Relate and talk to others. Working in aviation requires teamwork. Give your co-workers feedback."
  • Delegate. "Have other people help or support you."
  • Avoid. "Avoid taking on more responsibility or agreeing to overtime."
  • Get Help. "Don't let it affect home or other relationships. Don't turn to short-term relief. Talk to a doctor or counselor."
  • Consider leaving. If things get really bad, consider leaving your job. "When necessary, you have the freedom to move on."

WHERE TO GET HELP:

- Spouse or friend
- Doctor
- Spiritual advisor
- Employee assistance professional
- Psychiatrist, psychological, social worker, or qualified counselor

Organizations:
National Mental Health Association, www.nmha.org
FEI Behavioral Health, www.feinet.com,
Wallsend Self Help Group, www.wshg.org.uk.

A few other suggestions for combating stress include involving yourself in physical activities, leisure activities, eating an anti-stress diet, forming good relationship with colleagues, using relaxation techniques, and taking breaks when you need them.

FEELING BETTER ALREADY
Whether you are just beginning to see the signs of stress or know that you are already stressed out, it is never too late to begin the healing process. Take a walk, talk to a friend, or even seek out a medical professional. You work hard maintaining the ground service equipment, managing personnel and operations, and providing customer safety. While stress cannot be entirely eliminated, reducing the factors that contribute to stress, will help you maintain your physical and mental health.

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