April 7, 2016

It’s well known that stress has a negative impact on one’s health, and those in certain fast-paced careers face a much greater incidence of stress-related illnesses than the general public. Flight attendants in particular face substantially higher risk of physical and psychological illness, including higher incidence of some types of cancer and vascular disease.

“Many physical health concerns experienced by flight attendants are indirectly related to stress,” said Dr. Ralph E. Carson, who has a background in health science and medicine. “Inflammation is often the ‘glue’ between stress and physical health problems.”

In his research, Carson has found flight attendants to be at a greater risk of sleep problems, headaches, fatigue and gastrointestinal illnesses than the general public. Additionally, flight attendants are at three times greater risk of vascular disease and experience a higher incidence of skin and reproductive cancers than the general public.

Flight attendants also face a great risk of alcohol addiction. The Flight Attendant Drug and Alcohol Program (FADAP) is an FAA-funded substance-abuse prevention program that provides stigma-free information and support regarding substance use, abuse and dependence. NBAA encourages flight attendants to visit the FADAP website for more information.

Psychological problems also are more common among flight attendants, including an increased risk of depression and higher incidence of trauma or “critical incidence stress,” for example, following an aircraft accident, an injury experienced on an aircraft or other on-the-job trauma.

“These traumas are especially difficult because the memory of the initial occurrence can come back with every takeoff or every experience similar to the initial event,” said Carson. “For example, an elderly passenger might bring back traumatic memories of resuscitating another passenger.”

Carson recommended a number of methods, including yoga, for managing acute and chronic stress.

“Yoga requires you to put yourself in the present with no memory of past negative experiences and no anxiety over future challenges,” said Carson.

Carson will explain the physical consequences and psychological risks of flight attendants and flight technicians at the upcoming Flight Attendants/Flight Technicians Conference, set for June 21 to 23 in Delray Beach, FL. His presentation, “Life on the Fly: Stressors in Business Aviation,” will discuss methods of mitigating these health risks and managing well-being.