Top tips for navigating extra stress, as told by pilots

With stress levels soaring, perhaps the best advice for managing distractions and anxiety come from those who navigate turbulence thousands of feet above ground.

No one needs a reminder about the current chaotic state of affairs, because chances are – if you’re like us – your sanity is just as turbulent as 2020; however, South and Savannah Aviation have advice for taking back control. Finding normalcy in new schedules, work conditions and social restrictions can be challenging, especially as more time passes without much improvement in virus control. That being said, businesses are reopening and people are reconnecting. New anxiety lies in the unknown of coexisting with a pandemic and proceeding in the safest way possible by minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, the thought of going to an airport was downright outlandish – several months later, many still have considerable reservations about air travel. However, while flights were cancelled and air traffic diminished, aspiring pilots in the Lowcountry were logging hours pursuing their dreams. Student pilots at Savannah Aviation’s flight school not only tackled a most nerve-wracking enterprise, but did so in unprecedented conditions. Needless to say, they have ironclad advice for navigating increased anxiety and distractions in pandemic life.

Savannah Aviation has a particularly composed approach to stress, reassuring us, “Contrary to popular belief, fear and anxiety are a normal part of life and necessary for human survival.” The key to managing anxiety is founded in consistency and self-awareness. Flying regularly helps to keep pilots sharp in the cockpit, as well as flying frequently; scheduling practice often ingrains common practices and routines. Self-awareness is also critical to controlling anxiety, both in the sky and on the ground. Reflect and identify weaknesses and trouble spots, then practice. Ask for company from a friend or copilot, or seek professional assistance.

Distractions and increased anxiety can diminish productivity and success, which is why it’s important to have a plan. Matt Baird, flight instructor at Savannah Aviation, always explains to students that any distractions can disrupt flight progress. Baird stresses, “A thorough understanding of the conditions that can lead to collision avoidance is not only critical in all stages of flight, it’s one of the most important topics brought up during a pilot check-ride.” A student can have all of the tools, skills and knowledge to successfully fly, but still be vulnerable to distractions.

Successfully avoiding interference begins with preparation; this includes: planning and outlining the route, anticipating air traffic and preparing a response to various outcomes, as well as being able to effectively communicate with air traffic control. These strategies carry over to those of us who are ground-bound – organization, planning, preparation and communication are all helpful tools in combating stressors, whether you’re back in the office, out in the field, or at home navigating online learning. Tried and true, these methods are pilot-approved and pandemic-proof.