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Cut the Stress out of Travel


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Tips on cutting the stress out of travel

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According to a World Bank study and Hyatt Hotel survey, insurance claims for health problems tend to increase among employees who travel often. In fact, employees who travel overseas are twice as likely to file health claims for psychological problems (male travellers are 80% and female travelling executives are 18% more likely to file such claims).

Corporate travellers are up to three times as likely to suffer psychological disorders than their non-travelling colleagues, finds a study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The more business trips that are taken, the greater is the likelihood of a person making a medical claim.

The dramatic and sudden changes in climate, daily routine and sleep pattern, as well as unfamiliar cultures, high intensity workload and separation from loved ones are likely to compound the physical and mental stress of travel. Here are some areas that you can watch out for to control your stress levels.

Pack A Deal

Don't deal with packing, rather, just stay packed. Instead of having to deal with the stress of last minute or constant packing, try to keep a travel case that is always ready. I used to wait until the last minute to pack and I always forgot something important.

Then one day in Moldova, the thought hit me that I always repack the same clothes. When I arrived home, I went to the Internet and did a search under "travel clothes". I am now the proud owner of five travel certified wrinkle resistance shirts (three dress, two informal), three travel pants (with all kinds of hidden pockets) and a really amazing sports coat that can double as a pillow without wrinkling.

Here's the clincher: I make my boss pay for my laundry! When I use the hotel laundry, my clothes are packed so nicely with little pieces of cardboard and in a plastic bag. So this is what I do: At the end of the trip, I have one set of dirty clothes that I put in a plastic bag and place back in the suitcase. On the next trip, this goes into the hotel laundry. Voila! No more packing, I just set the suitcase aside for the next trip.

Take It Slow

I was the sort of flyer who would always try to get that last thing done at the office and then rush to the airport worried that I might miss the plane. The enlightening moment, in this case, was at the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg.

I clearly remembered saying to myself that I hate this (travelling). My next thought was that I am going to have to somehow change my attitude or I will be spending half my life stressed out and hating what I do. I went to the Business Class lounge, cancelled my flight that was leaving in 15 minutes and rebooked for the next flight leaving in three hours. I then went to the bookstore and got a good read. Going back to the lounge, I got a gin and tonic and life has never been the same since. I now look forward to the airport.

Waiting for the plane is now a special time for me. This is my time to relax and adjust to the transition from office to road trip. One well-known way of dealing effectively with stress is to slow down, which is the technique here. Try moving, talking and behaving in a more relaxed, slower manner during your next trip to the airport and see if it actually allows some of your stress to ebb away.

Reward Yourself

Take a break and reward yourself. Sure you're on a working trip but often close by to your destination are some wonderfully exotic and exciting things to see or do. I was recently on a trip to Pakistan where I was dealing with the post traumatic stress of witnessing a beheading (that sure was stressful!).

Close by were some of the most impressive ruins in the world from the Indus River Culture. I got up at 5.30 am, hired a driver from the hotel, had a wonderful time and made it back for the 10 am meeting. When I think of that trip now, the memory is of the country's wonderful and ancient culture. On a trip to Paris a few years ago, I went and saw the Mona Lisa for 10 short minutes, which was all I had. I just sat and admired her.

Reward yourself by engaging in something pleasurable and you will decrease stress and realise a boost in the disease-fighting quality of your immune system for several days. By the way, I gave up planning ahead of time what to see or do as I found this too stressful.

Stay In Touch

On a recent trip, my teenager's response to my call home was to scream to another sibling, "It's just Dad again, calling from some place in Antarctica I think. He said you have to talk to him." What a warm wonderful feeling for Dad to know he has absolutely normal teenagers even if they don't want to talk.

This brings me to the fourth strategy: stay in touch with home. Phone calls or even e-mail can give you a fun break from the 24-hour demands of business travel and it reassures both you and your loved ones that you are still a family, no matter how many miles separate you. It can also reduce the stress of readjusting to home life after the trip is over.

There is nothing more relaxing than asking the kids how they did in the track meet or what they did over the weekend. By the way, never ask how your kids performed in their exams. From my experience, this is not relaxing.

It is now less expensive from many locations overseas to make international calls but whatever the price, I just consider it as one of the costs of having a job with a lot of travel involved.

Eat Right

What you eat can promote or relieve stress, and help or hinder the body in how it handles the physical stress response. Stay healthy and stress-resistant by taking time out for good meals. When I travel, I find eating to be one of the most enjoyable parts of travel. I focus on the four basic food groups: Tex-Mex, Asian, Continental and Middle Eastern. If you are stressed out and need a break from anxiety, try asking those around you to recommend a great place to eat.

Get Some Sleep

I have found that the frequent traveller's best friend is a set of soft earplugs, neck pillow and eye covers. Lack of adequate sleep can make you moody, angry and more vulnerable to illness and stress.

Work That Body

Everyone knows that physical activity is one of the most effective stress-management techniques around. When things do not go exactly as they should, you may be tempted to skip your workout because you're feeling stressed.

If this happens, remind yourself that exercise will help relieve those feelings of stress and improve your problem-solving ability so that you can cope better with the inevitable challenges and opportunities of travel.

To work away your tension and fortify yourself against the negative physical effects of travel stress, try taking a walk. My most vivid memory of Moscow is a cool crisp 40-minute walk early in the morning to Red Square. A good swim in the hotel pool is also a very effective way to get in some exercise.

Take Notes

Writing down your feelings in a diary may help relieve stress. I find writing about what I have seen and experienced to be an effective way to demonstrate to myself the wonderful aspects of travel. This is what I recently wrote on one of my many "field trips". "I felt as though I had been plumped upon another planet or into another geologic horizon of which man had no knowledge or memory." - Richard Evelyn Byrd. Flying down the Antarctica Peninsula, there are towering mountains that rise abruptly out of the sea shrouded with thick glaciers. The sea is alive with icebergs of fanciful shape and impossible hue floating on glossy waters, like rough-cut diamonds scattered by a giant unseen hand. Antarctica's ethereal landscape shimmers with a savage beauty and raw power that exceeded the expectations of even a jaded traveller like me.

A study done at John Hopkins eight years ago showed that people who wrote down some of their adventures, be they positive or negative experiences, showed improved mental health and were better able to cope with travel stress.

The Best Medicine

Laughter is one of the healthiest antidotes to stress. When we laugh or even smile, blood flow to the brain is increased, endorphins (painkilling hormones that give us a sense of well being) are released, and levels of stress hormones drop.

Establish Travel Rituals

People who have high stress in their lives tend to live in an environment without ritual, surrounded by mental and physical chaos. Travel removes one from a lot of the established rituals of life. The nine examples given above are, by and large, rituals I have established for myself in a travel environment.

Establishing rituals can help prevent and reduce stress by saving time. It can be a comfort factor in times of stress, when predictability and certainty reassure us that no matter how bad conditions get, some things remain constant.

Dr Paul Grundy is a senior medical coordinator with AEA International Pte Ltd, a company with operations in 24 countries which helps people who get into trouble anywhere in the world.
The above article was reproduced from Frequent Traveller magazine with permission.

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