April 1, 1998


By Richard Komarniski

APRIL 1998

When we think of stress today we immediately think of financial stress, emotional, family or work related stress. Stress, in reasonable amounts, can be healthy for us. It helps to keep us alert, productive, and makes for a more interesting life. Stress is an essential part of life. A certain amount of stress is what gets people out of bed in the morning. However, if the amount of stress is excessive, unhealthy things begin to happen. We must look at the sources of stress, understand what is causing it, and understand the effects it has on all of us. As professional aviation technicians, we work in a very high stress profession.

Stressed out
Everyone knows the feeling: the missed deadline at work, the sick child at home. The unemployed battle bill collectors, while those lucky enough to have jobs are pressed to do more with less. More work keeps landing on fewer shoulders. Customers' expectations keep going up. Stiffer competition means we must move faster and faster to keep up. Our busy lives are becoming more busy, more complex, and ever more stressful. To quote Rex Shoaf: "We should not live to make a living, But rather live to make a life that is worth living."

We all experience stress in our day to day lives, but we have to be willing and able to accept and cope with the stress at work. If we come prepared and anticipate the stress at work, we are already well ahead of the challenge to deal with our stress. If we try to control the matters that we personally cannot control, then we waste both time and energy. This weakens our ability to deal with other issues when our efforts could produce a real payoff.

Does the struggle make sense? Are you in a position to control the situation or will you let it control you and become emotionally drained? The most sensible move is to accept what we cannot change. If we arrive at work in the morning with four aircraft still not dispatched for the new day, all we can do is to evaluate the situation rationally, communicate with our peers and management, and determine the best rational plan to cope with the situation. It does not help to become emotionally frazzled and get all worked up for the rest of the day.

Take a step back, develop a plan, and then implement the plan. An ancient Chinese proverb provides a very real approach to dealing with complex problems: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

A key to coping with stress is to understand its source and evaluate the reality of the situation. Why can some people who owe $10,000 to the bank find that they lose their ability to stay focused at work or to be able to sleep? Then there are others who can owe the bank $200,000 and they continue to function without any difficulty.

Psychologists say the reason is based on our character, which is controlled by our upbringing. Others say that it has to do with our faith in ourselves and our ability to dream. It is great to have a dream and goals, but if our dreams and goals are not well planned, we place ourselves in a stressful situation. Sometimes we are faced with stress that is out of our control, such as sickness, accidents, and loss of jobs.

We have two choices. The first choice is to feel sorry for ourselves, go on a self-pity party and lose all of our energy on self pity and worry. The second choice is to face our problems and develop a plan to handle them. Just look at a man like Christopher Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the movies. He suffered a tragic accident and is paralyzed from the neck down. He is still positive as ever and is effectively using his handicap to inspire and help others.

When you experience a setback in life and hit bottom, you have some choices to make. It is totally up to you how far you are going to bounce back. The library is full of biographies of people who bounce back to unbelievable heights after hitting bottom. For a little sobering inspiration, pick up one of these biographies and read how others have dealt with life's challenges.

In my many travels I meet aircraft technicians who have hit bottom on a personal level. Years later when I meet them again, I find that many of them have grown from the adversity they faced and state that the layoff, financial burden, or stressful situation etc. was the best thing that ever happened to them.

It all depends on how we cope with stressful situations or the unexpected difficulties that we must live through. When we have a traumatic experience in our life, we frequently make things worse by wasting our energy with worry, grief, and self pity. We have to grow from the experience and move forward, ready to face the next challenges that we will encounter. Look to the future and get ready for more of life's experiences instead of dwelling on the past.

How do we apply some of these principles in our work? With new aircraft and responsibilities we have to be stepping out of our previous comfort zones and re-engineering our role. Eliminate unnecessary tasks, reorganize priorities, and figure out which tasks are expandable. Discard old baggage and focus on what it will take to achieve the organization's current goals. Your own decision may do more to determine your stress level than anything your supervisor or other outside influence can do.

Too much of the pressure we are feeling these days is self-induced stress, the result of basic mistakes we are making in how we react to change. How many of us worked with an individual who set themselves up for stress by resisting change? We have to learn to exploit instability.

In our rapidly changing world, rigidity and resistance to change is a death sentence for a career. Stretch yourself today, so you will be better equipped for tomorrow. Keep updating your skills and take on new challenges, and you will always be employable. Why is it that those who resist change are left behind for job and career opportunities when people who do not resist change keep on climbing, surpassing others, and achieving job satisfaction?

We have to evaluate each life crisis individually. If we are going through a crisis that we cannot cope with — death, separation, financial ruin — we may have to seek professional help to deal with personal stress. A wiseman said, "Only the wise seek counsel."

To cope with stress we may need to talk to someone. A friend is someone whom we can talk to frankly, whose opinions and criticisms we can accept, and who helps us believe in ourselves. It is hoped that we are our own best friend. Some of us are friends to others, but what do we do for ourselves? Do we nurture our needs and spend time with people who are most important to us? If we do not believe in ourselves, we are setting ourselves up for significant stress.

We should be thankful for the challenges in our life (not problems, but challenges). As we overcome them we have more faith in our own abilities and set higher goals. Challenges help us grow to the next level in life. You may be faced with challenges like any other person, but if you take the challenges in stride and learn from them, then you will be further ahead than the next person. And, you will have discovered a very potent stress management technique.

In the next article, we will discuss sources of stress, signs of stress, and approaches on how to deal with stress.