Keeping my mind grounded while my head is in the clouds.

This post is my first guest post by my friend and old school mate Russell. His job, as he will explain, can be very mentally taxing and that is why I asked him to have a think about his own mental health, and how he would deal with certain things. He has very kindly written the post below. Thank you Russell.

I’d like to start off by thanking Andrew for reaching out to me to write this post for his mental health blog. He’s done incredible work over the past year raising mental health awareness among young men! My name is Russell and I am a Commercial Pilot operating shorthaul passenger flights across Europe. For the past 18 months I’ve written a travel/ work blog called ‘AboveTheHorizonBlog’ to spread the word on what an incredible industry I work in and to share travel tips/ inspiration for those reading.

Mental health has become a huge talking point in recent years and is present in every walk of life! Aviation is no exception. My aim is to share a few insights into the challenges I’ve faced in the early stages of my career and to offer some coping mechanisms to fight the pressures and stay positive. The overarching point is that the more you talk the better it gets!

I’d like to start with the day to day challenges I experience in my role as a Commerical Pilot; Loneliness and a lack of routine. I work for the one of largest UK airlines and as such have become merely a number in an ever increasing employee register. The impact of this means that it is very common for me to work with Captains and Cabin Crew whom I have never met. On some occasions I could do 6 days of work with 6 different crews! For regular office workers this concept seems alien. Imagine every day you went to the office you had a different manager watching over you, a different team of colleagues on your tea break and that when you finished your day you wouldn’t see them for another year…WEIRD!

For me this lack of recognised ‘work colleagues’ was tough as I had experienced office life before and the banter/ camaraderie that comes along with it. Quite quickly the sense of loneliness kicked in, combined with the fact I had officially left home for a new life in London. To further add to my problems, my complete lack of routine from week to week made it difficult to socialise outside of the work place. I was going to work some mornings at 4am, the next week it was 4pm. Sometimes away for one night, or just a day, or 5 days. I could have 6 days of work one week and 2 the next. It became extremely difficult to work out how I was gonna do this over a 40 year career.

The first thing I realised was that I was not alone. Every new recruit had the same experience. In the first few months every face was a new one but as time went on things became more familiar. I’d bump into guys I had flown with before, crew members I had shared a drink with and my friends I had trained with at flight school. A simple “hello, how are you?” or “where are you going today?” was enough to feel welcomed by those already settled into the company. Outsite of work I developed friendships with my new housemates and started settling into my new home. At no stage did I allow myself to become isolated. Adult life most definitely requires more forward planning and by being proactive in organising things I made my life a lot easier. Sometimes sporadic activities or meet ups worked well too! The key was, despite the varied nature of my lifestyle, I made sure I had something organised in both my work and home life to look forward to each week.

To summarise, a new job, new home or change in routine can lead to a feeling of isolation. The worst thing you can do when you start to feel lonely is to hide away and make it worse. Keep yourself busy at work and active at home. Identify patterns of work you enjoy and do them more. I like working early so I can enjoy my evenings downroute in some of Europe’s great cities and also so I can socialise with my friends in London who work “normal” jobs! Whatever works for you is best and it will change as time goes by.

In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, I’ve also experienced more general life problems whilst transitioning into the big bad adult world. I want to reiterate that the best way to cope with any challenges you face is to discuss them with friends, family or even anonymously with a stranger! The more you talk the more you realise you are not alone.

First and foremost a healthy lifestyle will help you keep a healthy mind. You don’t have to be a gym addict or play sport at the highest level, just stay active by doing something you enjoy. I play social rugby throughout the year and attend the odd gym class to keep fit. I also enjoy playing golf (when it’s sunny!) and trying new things such as wake boarding. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy it! Combining an active lifestyle with a balanced diet also works wonders for me. You don’t need to be the next Jamie Oliver and save the world from rubbish school dinners; a general level of culinary skills will be enough. Cook what you like to eat and you can’t go far wrong.

Making the most of time off is crucial. In my role it’s very easy to go for months and not see friends or family by no fault of my own. Conflicting schedules between my pilot friends is common and as a shift worker I find myself working weekends while office folk are off! Finding the time for a coffee catchup or an evening meal is a great way to touch base and see what’s happening in other people’s lives. Don’t leave it until your birthday to organise a get together; you don’t need an occasion to celebrate! With family I like to FaceTime or WhatsApp to keep up to date with what everyone has been doing. I try to get the odd Belfast trip which allows me to pop home for a day whilst technically working. Making the most of time available.

Lastly, I wish to touch on the topic of alcohol. I love a drink just as much as the next guy, I wouldn’t be Irish if I didn’t!! There’s nothing better than when the sun is shining, sitting outside at a beer garden drinking a couple of pints of cider with your friends. Cheers! However, don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of overindulging. Alcohol is great in moderation but try avoid the urge to enjoy every sunny day with a drink. Equally, every social meet up with friends or family doesn’t have to involve alcohol consumption. I fell into the trap where every day for nearly 2 weeks I had at least 1 glass of an alcoholic beverage. Whether that was a pint of beer or a glass of wine it all added up. I would wake up feeling lethargic, I quite often needed an afternoon nap and I became rather lazy! My diet suffered also as I craved beautiful British bacon and lots of crisps. My general mood slumped.

I never had a dependency on alcohol but for a period of time everything I did revolved around the stuff! I chose to do a full month alcohol free and it made such a difference. I felt so much more alert. More active. Full of energy. A stark contrast to the feeling before. This made me realise that as great a pint of beer tastes, its not a necessity to have a good time. Find a way to regulate your alcohol consumption in order to continue enjoying its social nature. A few dry spells throughout the year definitely help in boosting your mood and go a long way in maintaining positivity on a day to day basis.

Mental health is relevant to all of us and I hope this blog has helped to break down the “I’m a man” barrier and show we’re not alone. We are here to look out for each other and the best way to achieve that is by discussing our experiences and sharing them. I’ve touched on a few of the challenges I’ve faced over the last 2 years. Some of these may be relevant to you and others not. Regardless, my take away points from this is that no matter what the challenge, it’s best dealt with together. Planning ahead, staying physically healthy and making the most of my time off all help in improving my mental wellbeing. Find what works for you!

Many thanks for reading!


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