Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

Peer Assistance Network New Zealand (PANNZ)

CAPTAIN HERWIN BONGERS SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON THE HEALTHY BENEFITS OF EMOTIONAL SELF-AWARENESS AND THE CRITICAL NEED TO TALK WITH OTHERS IN MOMENTS OF FEAR.

One of the most fearful thoughts for many pilots or air traffic controllers is the loss of our medical certification possibly for good. The first thoughts are nearly always “how will I pay the mortgage”, “how will I feed my family”, “what would I even do for a job?”

Stress, anxiety, grief, and low mood can often bring on these fears and these thoughts can naturally be mixed with thoughts of shame, loss of control, loss of respect, loss of self-value. Together those are a hellishly powerful set of logical deductions driven by a fear in all of us.  Sometimes fear alone is enough to naturally dissuade a pilot or air traffic controller to even want to talk about it.

It’s natural for many to think “hell, it’s my job to assess, analyse, deduce and enact, I’ve got this handled and I can work it out.” Engaging with the Peer Assistance Network New Zealand (PANNZ) may be a far better solution. 

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” said some fella once.

Fair to say that he had enough reasons to acknowledge those who had proceeded him, but when Isaac Newton uttered those words he had already deduced his theory of gravity and was to go onto define the laws of motion. How easy would it have been for him to claim the achievements as his own. But the self-aware and reflective Newton, the chance to take onboard the contributions of others was necessary.   

Fear often removes our ability to see ourselves from the viewpoint of others (this is called meta-insight).

Fear of a critical outcome, like losing our medical can lead to a circling of our wagons and limiting who finds out. It’s completely normal to think that a situation you are deeply involved with is personal to you alone, and that you are by yourself in dealing with it. The chance to be self-aware is lost.

Like situational awareness (SA) in aviation, Emotional Situational Awareness (self-awareness and meta-insight) can diminish with fearful thoughts that we imagine are career ending.  This reinforces and further dissuades any wish for us to share our fears with others.

This can look like “I know I’m fatigued, it’s hard to focus and I’m not performing at the standard I’m usually at, but I’ve still got this and anyway, I can’t tell anyone because I’ll never work again”.

Emotional Situation Awareness is something others can help us with enormously.

It’s often only when we trust someone enough to seek an outside view that some degree of that Emotional Situational Awareness returns. The responses a trusted colleague provides gives us a view back on ourselves – this is exactly what meta-insight is. 

It’s a huge relief to find out that many other pilots and controllers have been through the same or similar experiences and have continued in their careers.

But who can you trust with understanding the complexities of the specific job pressures and how medical certification plays such critical part of that?

The Peer Assistance Network was created to provide this support.

Their Peer Support Volunteers are pilots and air traffic controllers like you who have been selected with skills in empathy and listening.

Since PAN has been running, over 200 medical licence holders have sought a confidential chat, some reassurance, sometimes a referral to the PAN psychologist.

When caught in the middle of thought that stress can cause, the hardest thing can be to find clarity.

Just like Newton could only imagine his theories and laws given the work of his colleagues, to see your way through the maze of professional and personal stresses sometimes takes the shoulders of your PAN support volunteers to confidentially support you through those tough times and back to work. 

All members of NZALPA have free of charge access to PAN.  PAN also has a Women’s Forum to support and connect women in aviation.  

For help and more information: 0800 PAN 100 or email assist.coordinator@nzalpa.org.nz

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