Industry CRM Developers

Crew Resource Management


Stress is a necessary evil in a pilot's life. In moderation, it is a key factor in the achievement of peak performance. Too much stress will detract from the pilot's ability to reason and function. Not enough stress causes complacency. Either not enough stress or too much stress can lead to a lack of situational awareness.

What is Stress?

The definition of "stress" originated from the engineering field

A force placed upon an object to cause straining, bending or breaking

Related to humans, the term stress is used to describe the body's response to demands placed on it.

There are three types of stress:

    Physical - environmental conditions, noise, vibration, stages of hypoxia

    Physiological - fatigue, lack of physical fitness, improper eating habits

    Emotional - social and emotional factors related to living and intellectual activities, such as solving difficult problems in flight

There are also two categories of stress

    Chronic Stress - the result of long term demands of lifestyle or personal situations (health, relationships, job security)

    Acute Stress - the result of demands placed on the body by a current issue (time constraints, bad weather, equipment failure)

Effects of Stress

Stress is cumulative. The body does not differentiate between the type of stress it feels, but there is a biological differentiation between the category of stress.

Acute stress injects adrenaline into the bloodstream and becomes a source of energy. Heartbeat, breathing rate and blood sugar levels all increase. The body is charged into a "fight or flight" mode which enables the individual to quickly react to the situation.

Chronic stress is the more dangerous of the two. It can make a situation that normally should be controllable seem more difficult to handle. Chronic stress will exaggerate the effects of acute stress. Long term chronic stress may cause illness, insomnia, irritability, ulcers, and high blood pressure. It can threaten an individual's health.

Stress is cumulative. High levels of stress over a period of time will push the individual on the back side of the stress curve and affect the pilot's ability to deal with complex or difficult tasks. Performance will be progressively degraded. Communication and CRM principles will be adversely affected.

  • Medicals
  • Checkrides
  • Illness
  • Pay
  • Conflict
  • Fears related to flying
  • Time schedules
  • Passengers
  • Noise and vibration
  • Temperature and humidity
  • Diet
  • Dehydration
  • Altitude changes
  • Confined space
  • Poor visibility
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tightness
  • Aches & pains
  • Upset stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of depletion
  • Emotional burnout
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Withdrawal
  • Conflict in relationships
  • Lack of energy

Recognizing Stress Levels

Either monotony or over-stimulation have the potential to increase the rate of human error. Pilots require some stress to maintain peak performance. How much stress is too much? Stress levels change from day to day, from individual to individual. An awareness of what our stress levels are, and a lookout for an indication of what other crew member's stress levels are, will provide an indication of what performance level can be anticipated.

With reference to the pre-course material, Question Sets #4, #5, and #6 relate to gauging your stress level.

Question Set #3 is a Stress Barometer and will gauge how susceptible an individual is to stress based on personality type.

Personality Type
Type A "Hot Reactor" Susceptible to stress
Type B "Cool Reactor" Low susceptibility to stress

Question Set #4 provides an indication of your Stress Level. It may shed some light on why some people cope with stress - consciously or subconsciously - better than others.

If your score on the high stress indicators test is:

    8 or less, you have mild stress

    9 to 24 is moderate stress

    Higher than 24 indicates the high stress range

If you scored high on Question Set #3 Stress Barometer, it shows that you are coping well with your present level of stress.

Question Set #5 is a Life Event stress evaluation for chronic stress levels. It provides a broad indicator of some of the stressful situations you may have recently encountered. The higher the score, the better the chance of experiencing a significant illness in the near future. If you score high, it makes sense to avoid further stressors.

    Scores of:

    100 - 150 = 30% chance

    150 - 300 = 50% chance

    Over 300 = 80% chance

Signs of Stress

It is relatively easy to see the signs of stress in yourself and in others - if you know what to look for. Is this profile recognizable in anyone you know?

Do they

  • Rush speaking
  • Complete other people's sentences
  • Rush eating
  • Hate waiting in line
  • Never seem to catch up
  • Schedule more activities than they have time available
  • Detest wasting time
  • Drive too fast most of the time
  • Often try to do several things at once
  • Become impatient if others are too slow
  • Have little time for relaxation, intimacy, or enjoying the environment


On the back side of the stress curve, pilot performance will be degraded. Too much stress leads an individual to distress. As the pilot suffers from over-stress, it could lead to

  • Eroded judgment
  • Compromised or accepting of lower performance levels
  • Inattention
  • Loss of vigilance and alertness
  • Preoccupation with a single task
  • Fixation on one instrument or procedure
  • Forgetting or omitting procedural steps
  • Greater tendency toward spatial disorientation and misperceptions
  • Misreading charts or checklists
  • Misjudgment of distance or altitude
  • Loss of time perception
  • Loss of situational awareness


Definition: Attitude (noun); a frame of mind affecting one's thoughts and behavior; a general cast of mind with regard to something.

With reference to the pre-course material Question Set #6, transpose your scores in sequence from columns one through five on the lines below.

Col 1

Col 2

Col 3

Col 4

Col 5






It is recognized that the choice of responses forced you to select what could be an unsatisfactory alternative to the situation. The profile indicates your potential for each of the five hazardous thought patterns.

The situations presented were written in the third person so that you would apply your attitudes and judgments to another person's decision. Keep in mind that when you evaluated these situations your response was based upon your attitudes and your judgment of the situation. In other words, if you ever do exercise poor judgment, this profile will help you to understand your reasons.

The higher the relative number, the greater the probability of that particular hazardous thought pattern. Many accidents involve pilots who allow themselves to be influenced by one or more of the five hazardous thought patterns, and are enticed to takes chances as a result.

5 Hazardous Attitudes

Anti-authority: "Don't tell me" This hazardous attitude is found in someone who does not like to be told what to do. They may either be resentful of having someone tell them what to do or may just disregard rules and procedures. An assertive person will question authority if warranted.

Impulsivity: "Do something quickly" Someone who does not stop and think about what they are about to do. They do not select the best alternative, they do the first thing that comes to mind.

Invulnerability: "It won't happen to me" Many people feel that accidents will happen to others but not to them. People who think this way are more likely to be risk takers beyond acceptable levels.

Macho: "I can do it" People who are always trying to prove themselves take risks to try and impress others. Both men and women are susceptible.

Resignation: "What's the use" People who have this hazardous attitude do not see themselves as making a great deal of difference in what happens to them. They attribute events to either good or bad luck; they leave actions to others. They can go along with unreasonable requests to be a "nice-guy."


There are five columns for each of the attitude scores. Place a mark on each line at the height that matches your score. Draw lines between the columns to create a profile.

(Insert Profile Graph here)

The profile graph shows which patterns you would tend to use when your judgment becomes influenced by certain circumstances and hazardous thinking. The inventory does not show that you are bound to act in the manner of one or more of the hazardous thoughts all the time. Having thoughts similar to the ones described as hazardous is common and normal, but it is important to know that you can improve your ability to balance all your thoughts against possible outcomes so that you act only in a non-hazardous manner. Whether you engage in one or more of these thought patterns, often or rarely, learning to control them will be worthwhile.

Stress Management

If we don't manage stress, stress will manage us. Life events do not create stress; we create the stress in our minds. You can let it consume you - or you can eliminate or reduce it - and change stress into an energy source instead of an illness. The source of stress must be identified before it can be addressed and reduced, or eliminated. Take a rational look at the stressor. Ask yourself

  • Is my emotional mind working to lesson or increase my stress level?
  • What is the reality of the situation?
  • What is the very worst thing that is likely to happen to me?
  • Am I over-reacting to the problem?
  • Can I change the situation for a positive outcome?
  • If I cannot, what is the best way to cope with it?
  • Has this ever happened to me before?
  • If so, what did I do and what can I do better?
  • If not, then what is the best rational plan?

Make a plan and act on it. The goal is to control or to eliminate the effects of stress, recognizing that the stressor itself may not be under your control. Ensure sure that your solution contains the "I" word at the beginning, because that is the one thing you control. "We" or "they" may be part of the solution but "I" will have to work towards the solution.

Stress causes an unnecessary expenditure of energy through adrenaline production. The best way to rid the body of excess adrenaline is with physical exertion, or exercise. When it is not possible to exercise, a walk is an good way to relieve the effects of high stress, and also provides a mental time-out from the stressor. Vitamin C also helps rid your body of adrenaline.

Weight control, diet, use of alcohol or tobacco will affect the body's ability to control stress. Get the proper amount of sleep.

Be realistic and practical. This may call for you to be flexible and willing to adapt. You can reduce the effects of stress and cope with it better if you take a break from the problem. Stress relief is one of the main reasons why we take a vacation, but if that is not possible, sometimes a change is as good as a break. Discussing the stressor with a sympathetic ear will help you to cope with the situation, and input can be provided from someone who may not be emotionally involved.

A positive attitude and a sense of humor will help an individual to cope with stress. Perseverance with a plan of attack, and a look at the "big picture" will also help to modify the effects of stress.


  • Identify, recognize, eliminate or reduce too much stress
  • Cope actively with demands
  • East, sleep and exercise properly
  • Communicate
  • Avoid mind altering substances
  • Check your attitude, sense of humor and general emotional state
  • Stress is associated not only with distress but also with excitement, achievement, and effective performance
  • One of the major reasons for learning effective stress management is long-term preventive health care
  • In addition to helping our lives work better, stress will help us to achieve peak performance

The greatest discovery
of mankind is that
human beings can alter
their lives by altering
their attitudes


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