by Matthew Holman, Head of Traveller Wellbeing at Capita Travel and Events
If you are feeling anxious or worried about returning to business travel following the current crisis, know that you are not alone.
There are millions of travellers who will be feeling the worries of getting back to a more normal version of the world pre-covid19. For many, the uncertainty surrounding the virus has been the hardest thing to handle.
Plans are still in progress for the reopening of travel services, ensuring safety, hygiene, social distancing and minimalising the risks of contracting the virus. All of these measures are there to help reduce the stress of travel. Will they be successful? If they are planned and communicated well, they will help, but we will also need to show more patience and kindness as we move forward.
Understanding your anxiety
Why do I feel anxious when I think about leaving my house and travelling for business? Anxiety is the response to situations where I feel uncomfortable, where there is uncertainty, and often where I do not understand what is happening around me. Over the past weeks we have seen how government briefings and announcements have left people unable to interpret the rules that are being set out. This has certainly created a significant increase in anxiety levels for many – you can see it in the media and online through social media.
Why are we feeling anxious though? Increased anxiety is caused by:
Lack of understanding of a situation
Increased awareness of risks
Lack of support available
Mixed information and messages from too many sources
A feeling that nobody cares about me
We know that many people today are already struggling with anxiety disorders (in 2013 the Mental Health Foundation highlighted there were 8.2million cases of anxiety in the UK), and this number is growing. The current crisis is creating more anxiety.
The answer to manage anxiety better is simple. We need to engage in conversations to understand how individuals are feeling. For our business travellers we really need to engage with them to understand what is really worrying them and then ensure that we take this information seriously, and consider what we can do to support them better.
To manage our anxiety it is important to consider the following:
Whilst it is important to know what is happening and what the expectations are, it is also important to manage information in a way to reduce the anxiety. For a traveller they will want to know the facts and information relevant to their trip. They will want to be prepared, able to perform and given support to recover from the trip. Companies will have a responsibility to provide this information to their travellers.
It is important to stick to trusted sources of information.
Focus on the things you can control
When you feel yourself getting caught up in the fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as:
Washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol:
Avoid touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth)
Wear surgical face masks in public spaces or on transport
Stay home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick
Avoid crowds and gatherings
Avoid all non-essential travel
Staying at a social distance to others when out
Sleep well, as this will help support your immune system
Talk to others about your anxieties so that they understand your worries
Stay connected — even when travelling
Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. This is also one of the key reasons for travel wellbeing to be of increased importance to travel programmes for the future.
It’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we will likely see travellers reducing their in-person socialising.
Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Skype dates to counteract that tendency.
While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.
That said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
Taking care of you
Be kind to yourself - Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.
Maintain a routine - Even when you are travelling, try to stick to your regular sleep, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
Take time out for activities you enjoy - Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you out of your worries.
Get outside - Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk can make you feel better. Just be sure to avoid crowds, keep your distance from people you encounter, and obey restrictions in your area.
Exercise - Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. While the gym and group classes are out, you can still cycle, hike, or walk. When travelling make sure you pack your activity clothes and make the time to stick to the exercise routine. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.
Avoid self-medicating - Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances to deal with anxiety or to help emotional management. If you tend to overdo it in the best of times, it may be a good idea to avoid for now.
Take up a relaxation practice - When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day.
Get more help
If you are still worried and anxious about returning to business travel make sure that you have the chance to tell others. If you do not feel comfortable speaking directly to your manager or HR team, look at alternative routes of support. Could you consider contacting the following:
Your Company Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if you have one
Samaritans – 116 123 (FREE) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Shout also offers a free 24/7 crisis text service. Text SHOUT to 85258