Air traffic controllers (ATCs) are generally considered one of the working groups having to deal with a highly demanding job.
In fact, it entails a complex set of tasks requiring very high levels of knowledge and expertise, as well as the practical application of specific skills pertaining to cognitive domains (e.g. spatial perception, information processing, logic reasoning, decision making), communicative aspects and human relations.
The ATC must constantly reorganize his or her system of processing flight information by changing operating methods (in particular, cognitive processes, conversation, coordinating with assistants, anticipation and solving problems) as they arise and interact with each other. This is carried out by means of the precise and effective application of rules and procedures that, however, need flexible adjustments according to differing circumstances, often under time pressure. At the same time, the job includes high levels of responsibility, not only with regard to risking lives, but also for the high economic costs of aeronautical activities.
The consequences on health and well-being If we consider stress as the external demands upon an individual, it is clear that stress for air traffic controllers is connected, on the one hand, with the intrinsic characteristics of the job and, on the other hand, with the work organization and conditions in the workplace. It is important to bear in mind that the psycho-physical responses of individuals also depend on their resources, defined both in terms of personal characteristics and coping strategies.
Managing stress properly also requires that the individual learn how to cope effectively in terms of personal lifestyles and behaviours.
First of all, people should avoid ineffective ways of coping, which can have an apparent short term positive effect but, in the long run, can cause further problems in health and well-being.
Secondly, maintaining good physical fitness and emotionally stable psychic conditions are the best aids in fighting and overcoming stress. To stay in satisfactory condition, people should pay particular attention to physical exercise, eating habits, sleeping patterns, relaxation techniques and leisure activities.
There is no doubt that physical exercise, if carried out regularly and in a non-competitive way, is beneficial for all the body functions improving both physical and psychological wellbeing.
However, particular attention should be given by the controllers to secondary occupations and/or sport activities which could hamper proper relaxation or adequate sleep, thus leading to greater tiredness or reduced alertness while on duty.
Proper eating habits are also important in keeping the person fit. A balanced diet, having light and easily digested meals before and during work, can support work performance during duty periods, avoiding drops in mental efficiency and drowsiness that generally occur after heavy meals. A diet with a low-fat content and the right amount of calories, aimed at maintaining an ideal body weight, also has a strong influence in preventing degenerative processes for chronic digestive and cardiovascular diseases, for which bom stress and obesity are important risk factors.
SOUND SLEEP both in terms of quantity (for recovering from physical fatigue) and quality (for psychic well-being), is a very important anti-stress measure. Sleeping troubles, in fact, can be an early symptom of stress, but can make the person more vulnerable to stress as well. Should these troubles arise, the person should not use sleeping tablets (or only as a last resort), but try behavioural methods, such as taking more exercise to become more tired before going to bed; adopting stricter times for going to bed and getting up; avoiding eating before going to bed; having a light dinner with a prevalent content of carbohydrates rather than proteins; not taking stimulants, such as alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee and soft drinks containing caffeine; having a warm bath before going to bed; arranging a comfortable bedroom protected from disturbing noises; listening to relaxing music or reading before sleeping.