Air traffic controllers are masters of handling stress — here’s how they do it

Robert Sapolsky,  Stanford University professor and author of “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst,” has studied how humans handle stress. Air traffic controllers face an incredible amount in their daily jobs, but the successful ones find a way to turn it off.

Here’s a transcript of the video:

Whoa…

Screw up and hundreds of people are dead

My name is Robert Sapolsky.

I’m professor of neuroscience at Stanford.

What’s interesting though is to look at occupations that are immensely immensely stressful. Where what you see are two different profiles of outcome. And the poster child for that for years has been people studying is air traffic controllers.

There’s the folks who burnout after a year on the job.

And then there are the people who are perfectly fine and are working there happily for 30 years.

When you first start a job like that, like before one of your sessions, two hours before your blood pressure is elevated, you’re already in anticipatory stress. You finish your shift and two afterward you’re still hypertensive.

And you come back to the ones that are going to last for 30 years, and they park the car in the parking lot and they’re still running like this. They sit down in the chair, they turn on the stress response and two seconds after the end of their shift, they’re thinking about dinner. They turn on the stress response like crazy when they need it and they turn it off the rest of the time. Bioengineering term: They’re maximizing their signal-to-noise ratio. That’s the profile of the successful one there.

The people who burn out after a year, they still have that huge anticipatory rise, the huge recovery period, that’s the marker of someone who is coping with an enormously stressful period and stressful job,There’s the folks who burnout after a year on the job.

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