Heavy traffic to the airport, security, middle seat and across from the bathroom, turbulence that forces you to recall last conversations with loved ones, overbooked hotel so you are walked to a nearby hotel with very sluggish plumbing, only to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night catching a glimpse of light under a hotel room door, and, for a brief moment finding yourself disoriented; not knowing what’s the time of day or where you are! If any of this resonates with you–then you live an breathe road warrior madness!
According to DeFrank in his article, Executive Travel Stress: Perils of the Road Warrior. ‘At the core of this stress experience is a rapid, over-stimulating, unpredictable lifestyle…a frenetic, hectic, and fast-paced. This type of travel and work schedule leaves little room for relaxation, leisure, or family matters.”
As a road warrior myself, I know it’s easy to think your are immune to the this stress. And this is not just about finding time to relax. There is no escaping that business travel can lead to anxiety, distraction, irritability, and even illness. Business travel can severely disrupt your ability to perform effectively while on the road, and after returning to the office.
Long-distance air travel is particularly pernicious; associated with a group of transient negative effects, collectively referred to as ‘travel fatigue’, which result from anxiety about the journey, the change to an individual’s daily routine, and dehydration due to time spent in the dry air of the aircraft cabin.
Travel fatigue lasts for only a day or so, but for those who fly across several time zones, there are also the longer-lasting difficulties associated with ‘jet lag’.
The cause of jet lag is the inability of your body to immediately adjust to the time in a different zone. Our bodies have a sort of internal biological clock that follows a 24-hour cycle, called a circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms also regulate your body temperature, heart rate, hormone production, sleep, mood, and performance. Let me illuminate relative to jet lag. To help your body tell the time of day, fibers in the optic nerve of the eye transmit perceptions of light and darkness to the workings of this biological clock within the a special part of the brain; the hypothalamus. When your eye perceives dawn or dusk many hours earlier or later than usual, the brain may trigger activities that the rest of the body is not ready for, and jet lag occurs. You know jet lag when you feel it; malaise, nausea, headaches, constipation and aching joints. Tips for dealing with Jet Lag at the end of this article.
How does this madness cause stress and affect your health? If business travel stresses you out, you are not alone. Here are some numbers. In a recent study, seventy five percent (75%) of travelers and fifty percent (50%) of spouses of travelers and reported high or very high stress due to business travel.
In my experience, some travelers are anxious about the possibility of developing deep venous thrombosis (DVT; blood clot in the calf or thigh) or worse Pulmonary Embolism (PE; blood clot in the lungs). The risk for travelers is due to immobility. The truth is your risk of either is very small unless your travel is for three or more hours and you have another risk factor present. These include; prior DVT or pulmonary embolism, family history of DVT or PE, use of estrogen therapy; oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), pregnancy cancer or some inherited blood -clotting abnormalities.
And research reveals differences between women and men and potential stress related to travel. Family obligations have an impact on travel activity, but that women and men differ in this respect.
Cohabiting men travel more than men living alone, whereas there is no such effect among women. Having young children reduces the travel activity of most women, whereas there is no consistent such effect among men. And it’s no surprise that in most industries, men travel considerably more than women and this largely reflects women’s and men’s different positions in working life.
However, it turns out the travel in itself contributes most to the stress for road warriors. Take-off and landing were a perceived source of anxiety for about 40% of respondents, flight delays for over 50%, and customs and baggage reclaim for 33% of individuals.
This can be summarized into three unique components for ‘air travel stress’:
- Anxious reactions to adverse air travel events (delays)
- Angry reactions to other passengers
- Lack of trust that airlines/airports will ensure your safety and comfort
Living in your BestStress Zone http://www.beststresszone.com/what-is-the-beststress-zone is about learning how to transform potentially harmful reactions into healthy responses. We know unexpected & expected challenges will occur with air travel and business trips. It’s inevitable!
Here are 5 categories of simple tips to improve your wellness and reduce your Road Warrior Stress.
- Pre-trip planning and delegation are key. Delegate components of ongoing projects to be worked on in your absence. Be clear and specific. If you know you be concerned if certain tasks are not completed, establish contingencies; i.e. ‘If you cant complete this me’. Communicate ‘how and when’ you will be available-and- NOT available. Know your travel schedule. Print a hard copy of your itinerary and boarding pass just in case your phone has an issue. I have a client whose admin routinely botched some aspect of her reservations. Consider obtaining expedited clearance (TSA Pre Check) www.globalentry.gov/tsa.html / Obtain Use an APP that allows you to quickly make a “Plan B” if your flight is cancelled. Never check baggage. I prefer to use Fed Ex if it absolutely has to get there. Get a long life battery case for your smart phone. Regarding family and significant others; taking your kids on a virtual tour of your hotel they have a great visual for your scheduled nightly call or text exchange. And make the call on time. Be as well rested as possible before departure. Fuel your body with modest amount of proteins and carbs if morning/afternoon flight. Limit alcohol; it reduces sleep quality, exacerbates jet lag, contributes to dehydration.Airport & In-Flight. Get to the airport early. Breathe. Invest in a membership in a onsite club. Have a folder on your computer desktop labeled with work that requires less focused attention. Or have great book (s) to read on your kindle. Many airports have respites onsite. Use them. Know in advance if you will not have inflight internet access. Enjoy down time if you have a long layover or delay. Expect Delays. Focus on productivity. The delay can be viewed as a welcomed opportunity to complete work or even get a quick nap. Set your alarm. Power naps should be no longer than 40 minutes. Countermeasures to minimize the negative health effects of flights more than three hours includes; drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding diuretics such as coffee and alcohol, standing and exercising throughout the flight. Fruit juices- especially carrot juice-are ideal for correcting in-flight fluid loss.
- On-Arrival. Have the phone number pre-loaded in your cell for the car driving service. Renting a vehicle? Ask the car rental person for the best exit for car rental return. Always keep a USP type car phone charger in your travel bag. If you know you are ‘special’ and your lodging must accommodate your needs—go ahead and micromanage your arrangements in advance. It’s okay and will de stress you & all those around you or your team. I use a free APP for clock that has dim light and music on my smart phone. Try to create the right conditions when preparing for sleep. Have a plan for exercise or physical activity on the road. High end ‘disposable’ track shoes are lightweight and flexible. They offer little ankle support- but enough for working out in a hotel. Be sure there is a gym. Selected Westin’s have non concierge level rooms with treadmill and weights in your room. No gym? Consider an early morning brisk walk, followed by oatmeal and protein bar, instead of the full “american buffet breakfast”. Or if you are not a morning person, how about a walk instead of a quick drink when you return at the end of the day.
- Jet Lag. First, like many medical problems prevention is more effective and less costly than treatment & recovery. Prevention is simply being rested, eating correctly and staying hydrated. Its obvious but must be stated. The psychological aspect of jet lag can additionally be reduced by being pre-planning, having an organized briefcase, not forgetting important documents, and allowing plenty of time. Recovery from jet lag depends on how many time zones you cross. In general your body can adjust to one or two time zones per day. The physical aspects can be reduced by understanding and using your circadian rhythm to your advantage. Think of it as light therapy. Exposure to daylight at the destination will usually help adaptation. Timed careful exposure to bright light, particularly daylight, following flights across time zones is key. For eastward travel, you will lose time. Go to sleep earlier than usual, get up and get exposure early in the day after arrival appears to hasten adjustment in some individuals. For westward travel, bright light at the end of the arrival day works best. It is critical at your destination, to get as much sleep in every 24 hours as normal. A minimum block of 4 hours sleep during the local night – known as “anchor sleep” – is thought to be necessary to allow the body’s internal clock to adapt to the new time zone. If possible, make up the total sleep time by taking naps at times when feeling sleepy during the day. If you must use medications, do so wisely. I recommend homeopathic remedies; Valerian Root (do not use with alcohol), Melatonin and C3 for stress (an all natural stress relief product). It is important to consult with your physician before taking these or any herbal remedy. Each of us is different. Next time you are on the road, listen to your body. Learn how your body responds and adjust accordingly.
- Home. Complete as much of the paper work associated with the trip during the trip on the way home. Worth the cost of upgrading to business class for the elbow room. Schedule time on the calendar for readjusting to home and work after the trip back.Plan time to debrief with family members and your admin. Share stories about your success and listen to their stories. Consider if you will be more effective if you work from home if possible; particularly if you you are returning from a cross country flight. Or perhaps a Skype mid afternoon meeting rather than traffic, trains to make an 8:30am face to face meeting.
Do you have any secrets or suggestions? Share your story…
About Dr. Scott:
Carol J. Scott, MD, MSEd is a stress relief strategist for high achieving professionals. Author of, Optimal Stress: Living in Yiour Best Stress Zone, John Wiley, 2010, She is a speaker, stress relief coach, practicing emergency physician and health educator trained at Johns Hopkins. She hosts a weekly syndicated weekly radio show. You can join the conversation at Facebook.com/stressreliefradio.