By the time you are reading this, Thanksgiving is behind us and the holiday travel schedules are in full swing with 2018 drawing to a close. For crewmembers, November and December are busy flying months forcing the majority of us to be away from those we care about during the holidays. This can be a time of stress which can manifest itself in a variety of ways based individually on how we manage that stress. Issues like time away from family, full flights, difficult commutes, and navigating complex winter operations compound the anxiety. Discounting depression or other chemical imbalances, it is our perspectives that shapes this reality. Basically, it’s a matter of our mindset – as told in the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “…for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
It is within this spirit that we create our own reality. While there are numerous things beyond our control (like those mentioned above), in addition to the schedules we are awarded, overnights, crews and so on, with a bit of creativity we can manipulate certain things to our advantage. For instance, two years ago I was on reserve over Thanksgiving. I received a short call out to fly SFO-JFK on Thanksgiving and be away from family. Thankfully the flight loads allowed me to bring my wife and we had a great time exploring New York City the following day making it one of the more memorable holidays I’ve had! This year, knowing that I would most likely be gone flying over the actual holidays, we are lumping our holiday celebrations together over a two-week family vacation during the down time between the holidays. This is illustrative of how thinking outside the box can shape a situation to our benefit!
Another hot topic we find ourselves obsessing over during the holidays is food – and rightfully so. All of our social gatherings are centered around food, the majority of which can be rich and not aligned with a healthy diet. Also, certain social rules may apply when we are guests in someone else’s home, like the pressure to enjoy the food they have prepared for us. Navigating this can be like walking a tight rope between sticking to our health plans and being a courteous guest. We do have choices though, such as enjoying the meal, realizing it’s just one day. Also, if you have dietary preferences that are not flexible, for the benefit of all, offer to bring something that everyone can enjoy.
Our mindset is a key component, so don’t get down if you find yourself straying from your health goals. One day “off the wagon” doesn’t erase months, or even years, of health gains. If you need to relax your health goals for just a day to spend time with family, it’s just one day. It is not a reason to just resign and revert back to your old self. Make plans for this ahead of time to keep yourself accountable and get back on track the day after and don’t think of this as a cheat-day associated with diets. Remember, 98% of diets fail. A small bump in the road within the scope of a lifelong dedicated plan won’t even register over the long run. So be realistic, enjoy the time with family, or your crews while on a trip, all the while providing yourself some balance.
A noticeable trend around the holidays is a decrease in motivation to workout. Let’s not freeze in place! Coupled with shorter days and colder weather, we are less inclined to seek outside activities and slip into a winter slumber. This provides all the more reason to sharpen our focus and plan ahead to incorporate some type of movement despite these additional barriers. This is emphasized by the fact that exercise is beneficial to our mental health and can naturally curtail the acute effects of mild depression and anxiety of the holiday blues (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/why-exercise-is-so-essential-mental-health). Naturally, exercise increases activity in the hippocampus which can keep us out of an unhealthy, repetitive mental loop that is representative of mental ills while it increases our serotonin levels which make us feel good.
One key component to health and stress management that gets little light, is maintaining our social network. This is a time for us to go out of our way to include our crews as family and reach out. However, even with the best intentions, creative planning and optimism, we sometimes slip into a downward spiral of coping with holiday stresses through unhealthy outlets. This can be a time of isolation for many of us, so it is important to know what resources are available to you and use them. The Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) program is a great resource if your company has adopted and approved an internal HIMS program. If not, for additional resources depending on what kind of support you are seeking, you can visit this section of their website (http://www.himsprogram.com/Content/Resources).
So what’s the take away? The ability to alter our perspectives of our holiday schedules can make all the difference. Add in some schedule flexibility while keeping a laser focus on our lifestyle goals will provide the motivation to stay on track. Find healthy outlets for dealing with added holiday stress. Light exercise, meditation, stretching/yoga, or even reach out to the resources of the HIMS program. Incorporate your crews and have some fun! Lastly, we don’t have to wait for the New Year’s resolution to enact change. View our resource of online E-Courses at https://www.pilotfitness.com/products/ which are based on behavior modification, habits, and lifestyle planning to get you flying in the right direction and providing you the tools to navigate this holiday season and the rest of your career.