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  • Rob

Take Another Turn In Holding

I am continuing with the next in a series of articles that I am writing trying to relate things I learned in my days as a Navy fighter pilot with the situation we are living through today. As we experience various episodes of intensity across various aspects of our lives, it is critical that we recharge and rest whenever possible.

The life of a fighter pilot is basically short periods of extreme stress followed by long periods 'waiting for something to happen'. A normal flight from the ship entails a few second catapult shot down the flight deck hoping to see the radar altimeter start to rise as you come off the end of the ship. This is followed by an in-air refuelling exercise that certainly not without its excitement. From the tanker, you normally 'move to on station'. This is a holding pattern, a racetrack oval, where you and your wingman will circle as you wait for further instructions.

Once the call comes that there are enemy planes manoeuvring towards the friendly forces, the two planes join up and proceed to engage them. From here the intense dog fight that many people are familiar with from the movies ensues. Post-dog fight is normally followed by a fairly benign return flight to the ship where again you need to bring your game to the max to land aboard the ship. You can see the pattern, super high stress with periods of relative quiet.

If we look at how most of us have experienced life over the last six months, it might feel like you were thrust into a fighter plane (without all the training). Quiet walks in the woods with the family (great), daily feed of bad news across the globe with every day bringing a new surprise (not great).

It is well documented that people are feeling a very high level of stress that is affecting the health of those of us that are working as well as our families. This coupled with many of us struggling to reinvent the way we work with our companies and teams while having only a few 'communications channels', email, text, voice and video.

I would argue that the level of stress is going to continue for the foreseeable future. We are just in the shock phase now and will need to learn to invent the 'new way of working' that is starting to emerge. This will entail questioning almost every aspect of work (and life). My daughter is studying Sociology at University right now and I said I think that she may have hit this perfectly as every aspect of how we live and work needs to be challenged.

So how do these two seemingly separate thoughts tie together? Through about 8 years of military flying, you learn (out of necessity) how to compartmentalise moments of stress. You learn to relax very quickly as soon as the major stress is over and efficiently use the downtime, the gentle turns in the holding pattern, to recharge the batteries. The trick is also to use this time to assess the status of the plane and your wingman.

Looking at our new life, we need to work hard not to let the stress stretch on too long. I am certainly not a doctor and not one to give any medical advice but from my experience, I have learned to quickly recover from stressful situations and use the 'downtime' to try to prepare for the next test. Each of us has our own way to relax whether it is a long walk, reading a book, baking some bread or even knitting a sweater. The trick is to think about what things help you to relax and ensure you are set-up to do this as soon as possible after a stressful episode.

Next time you feel a stressful period starting to subside, try to think about 'taking another turn in holding' to recharge your batteries and prepare for the next test.

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