Stress is an inevitable and necessary part of our everyday life. It has the potential to motivate us and heighten our response to meeting the challenges we face, as well as degrade our performance when stress levels accumulate and exceed our adaptive abilities to handle the situation.
Stress is often associated with anxiety, fear, and fatigue etc.
Stress is typically caused by an overload of mental and/or physical activities or as a result of feelings of inadequacy, where we may feel that we don’t have appropriate experience, knowledge or capability to complete our allocated tasks. Either way, stress can have a direct and negative impact on our performance. High levels of stress are a problem for any individual or team, since the effects of stress are often subtle and difficult to assess. Although complex and difficult activities can generate stress, there is also the stress, both physical and mental, that a team member may bring to the situation and which others may not be able to detect.
This is even more relevant in aviation where stress is an inherent part of the high risk environment and demanding nature of our work which is also why in our field the importance of elimination, reduction and management of stress can not be emphasised the enough.
TYPES OF STRESS
- Domestic stress – Typically results from major life changes such as divorce, the birth of a child or the death of a family member/close friend etc. Preoccupation with domestic stress can play on our mind during working hours, distracting us from our tasks. This inability to concentrate fully may affect task performance, error rates and our ability to pay due attention to safety.
- Work related stress – Carrying out tasks that are new, or very challenging or difficult, can make us feel stressed. Time pressure, lack of standard procedures or appropriate resources, lack of guidance or supervision, and interpersonal conflicts all intensify this stress. Some of these stressors can be reduced by appropriate workload management, good communication, proper training, periodic review etc.
CHARACTERISTICS OF STRESS
Stress is insidious – That is, it develops slowly, and has a gradual and cumulative effect. It can be well established before we aware, that’s degrading our performance.
Stress is cumulative – It keeps piling up until it breaches the threshold of tolerance of the individual and results in negative impact.
CAUSES OF STRESS
Any changes in personal circumstances such as divorce, marital separation, bereavement, difficult family affairs, or financial concerns that can leads to stress and affect our emotional state. Work-related stress may include real or imagined commercial pressures and the need to juggle deadlines to get the work done. To complicate matters further, admitting to suffering from these stresses is often viewed by work colleagues as an admission of weakness or failure. Therefore, early symptoms of stress such as depression or sleep disruption may often be denied. In aviation, stress is high and inevitable as the margins for error are very slim and the consequences of lapses can be costly.
Different stressors affect different people differently. Typical stressors are:
- Physiological Stress such as heat, cold, noise or the onset of fatigue.
- Psychological Stress such as worries about real or imagined problems (e.g. financial problems, family problems etc.)
- Reactive Stress such as events occurring in everyday life (e.g. working under unrealistic time pressure, encountering unexpected situations etc.)
SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
The symptoms of stress can include:
- Physiological symptoms, such as sweating, dryness of the mouth etc.
- Health effects, such as nausea, headaches, sleep problems, stomach upsets, ulcers, etc.
- Behavioural symptoms, such as restlessness, shaking, nervous laughter, taking longer over tasks, changes in appetite, excessive drinking, or smoking etc.
- Cognitive effects, such as poor concentration, indecision, forgetfulness etc
- Subjective effects, such as anxiety, irritability, depression, moodiness, aggression etc.
CONSEQUENCES OF STRESS
Inappropriately high levels of stress can significantly degrade performance and as a result, compromise safety. Under high levels of stress, the following behaviors can be evident:
- Poor judgement.
- Compromised, or accepting of lower standards.
- Inattention, loss of vigilance and alertness.
- Preoccupation with a single task at the expense of others.
- Forgetting or omitting procedural steps.
- Greater tendency towards missing things.
- Misreading manuals and procedural steps.
- Loss of time perception.
- Loss of situational awareness.