Air crew often lead unhealthy lifestyles; we sleep at irregular hours and in different time zones, work extremely long days, are exposed to high levels of radiation, eat a lot of processed and packaged foods, struggle with maintaining relationships of all kinds and in my aircraft, don’t have access to running water to wash my hands for sometimes 14 hours at a time. As you can imagine we build resilient immune systems but this lifestyle wears on us mentally and physically. So these are my top tips on how to stay healthy living this lifestyle:
1. Pay attention to your diet
It can at times be extremely difficult to eat fresh and healthy foods while on the road. Often I find my foods go bad or hotel fridges freezing them which leaves me frustrated by both the wasted food, and the wasted money. Adding in commuting flights to my pairings makes it even more difficult to either find the time to meal prep or meal prep for the amount of time that I’m gone! I find myself snacking on buy on board items or junk food (especially by the end of the pairing when I’m all out of food and extremely exhausted). The best change I’ve made is packing fresh food for the first 2 days, some preservable foods like oatmeal or soup (I just found this dry pea soup that just needs hot water!!), and some healthy snacks like nuts or granola bars. I typically give myself one meal that I get to eat out on the pairing (which is also good for staying social – another important part of staying mentally healthy!) Then I look into my pairing before I leave and make sure there are a few destinations I’ll be able to stop at a grocery store to buy more fresh foods. A lot of grocery stores have prepackaged veggies, fruit, and salad. My go-to for a while was a bag of broccoli and a thing of humus. It lasts a few days and its cheap and healthy.
2. Keep moving
Sometimes it can be hard to make time for the gym when you’re working odd hours and are exhausted by the time you get back to the hotel. But if you make a conscious decision to just keep moving it will make a huge difference. Even if that just means going for a walk or going through the cabin multiple times a flight – whatever that means to you. Pilots have it even worse – they’re literally stuck in their seats unless they need to use the washroom. It’s crazy to look at how little I’ve walked on days that I’m stuck inside the plane the whole day.. sometimes less than 1km! Staying active is so important for both our mental and physical health so make sure you focus on this and don’t let the chaos of aviation take priority.
3. Go out with your crew
Living on the road is really hard for your social lives. I mean really hard. It is so difficult to maintain relationships when you are barely home – and when you are home its usually only for a day or two and it can be hard to meet up with people. Your crew is basically your friend group for the few days you spend together and its super beneficial to get out and socialize! You might not like all the crews you work with(and thats totally fair). But I try to make an effort to go out at least once with my crew. Even if its to just get out of my hotel bed and have a conversation thats not with my cell phone.
4. Keep a journal
I know, when the hell do you have time to journal? I find it difficult too, but having said that, looking back through my journal its really helpful to notice patterns and it can help you see when maybe youre in need for a lifestyle change. Maybe something is consistently making you happy/unhappy and you need to focus on that. It’s also a really great outlet when you’re having a bad day and you’re alone on a layover.
5. Get as much sleep as you can
I know, easier said than done. But how much happier are we when we get a normal amount of sleep? We make better decisions, we don’t hate our lives, its awesome! My tricks to sleep: electronics off 30-1 hour before I plan to sleep, lights off just a lamp on, close blinds (clip a hanger between them if sun is peeking through), have a bedtime routine (shower, brush teeth, read, etc.), and if all else fails – a little melatonin. Honestly, if I could trick my body to thinking in it’s bed time with just the bed time routine I would much prefer that than taking melatonin. Melatonin and I have a love/hate relationship. I only take it when I’m switching my body’s clocks (i.e. Going from PMs to AMs in one night). More often than not when I take it I end up either falling asleep and then waking up and being wide awake or taking it and being really tired but not falling asleep and then being really frustrated. Also I’m not sure if there is a correlation or not but I tend to get anxiety when I take it the night of and the next morning. It typically wears off by the afternoon but having anxiety is kind of counterintuitive when youre trying to sleep. Find what works for you!
6. Make time for hobbies
Throughout November/December I consistently brought wool and needles with me and made scarves for all my friends for Christmas. It made me feel productive (especially because I feel like I spend more than half my time sitting around waiting). It also gave me something to do during my layovers and I had a goal of 6 scarves in less than 5 weeks so it kept me busy. I like getting things done on layovers – if I have errands to run and can do them on layovers I will so I have more time to spend doing things I want to when I’m at home.
7. Take time to relax and have alone time
Don’t feel bad for skipping crew outings and opting for a day in bed instead if that’s what your need. Sometimes we overwork ourselves and give ourselves too many pressures and need a day to just rewind and reset. Once in a while these days are necessary (especially after dealing with chaotic guests all day) so don’t feel guilty, put on your sweats and enjoy your alone time.
8. Make a routine out of your chaotic schedule
One big thing that people in aviation do not have is routine. Our schedules change all the time, our sleep patterns are all over the place, we can’t even predict where we will end up laying our heads at the end of the day because things change that much. So keeping a little routine to your chaos can be really helpful for mental help. Know that no matter where you get – you’ll do the same things before bed (take off makeup, set up room – I always do the exact same things ever time I get to a hotel room – set the temperature, plug in a charger by my bed, wash my hands and face, put my food in the fridge, and change into comfy clothes. These little things become my mini routine.
9. Remember that home isn’t always a place
Home for me is not a physical location and remembering this gives me a lot of comfort. Home for me is landing in Toronto and taking the bus to my crash pad, it’s getting kisses from my dogs, it’s feeling the warmth of Anthony, it’s sharing laughs and drinks with my friends, its returning to a place once travelled, it’s Kenya, it’s Canada, it’s Lyon, it’s Toronto and it’s Thunder Bay. And most importantly, its all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.
10. Most importantly, take time off when you need to
There have been days where my body just can’t fly. My ears are full of pressure, I’m getting nauseous, I’m dizzy and basically my body is saying no. You need to pay attention to these things and call in sick when you aren’t feeling up to it. Its also really important to pay attention to your mental health. Pay attention to what youre body is telling you, it’s always better to call in sick then be stuck somewhere miserable and unable to work.