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Business Travel Blues: Something Stressful in the Air

IMAGE Biting the flight attendant? Having a mid-flight temper tantrum? Although it sounds uncivilized, more and more air travelers are exhibiting their own versions of road rage, caused in part by the stressors of business travel.
Millions of business people across the nation pull double duty by keeping the home fires burning while taking care of business on the road. Unfortunately, whether you travel three days a year or three weeks a month, stress generated from trying to keep all the balls in the air can damage your effectiveness at home and on the job.
Stress, no matter the cause, affects our health, well-being, and relationships. How you handle the stress thrown at you affects everyone around you.

Types of Stressors

Stressors can be classified into one of two categories—internal or external. External sress comes from other sources, such as your job, family, or big changes in your life. Internal stress centers on your reaction to the external stress. Are positive or negative? Do you run from stress, try to hide from it, or face it head on? These occur whether you are at home or on the road.
Although many elements of work, personal life, and business travel are outside your sphere of influence, you can control some contributing factors. Even the effects of those elements outside your direct control can still be moderated by your responses.

How to Cope

When you travel, flight delays are inevitable. That is something you can't control. What you can do is plan ahead and be ready to occupy your time doing something else, rather than stew about it. Next time you travel, carry a book or newspaper to distract you and calm you down. Jim G., a Boston frequent-flyer, keeps crossword puzzle books in his briefcase for those times when his flight is delayed. "I get so into solving the puzzles that I tend to forget that I've been sitting in the same airport chair for five hours longer than I had planned."
If going some place new and unfamiliar makes you feel anxious, arrange for a car and driver, or carry maps of the city.You must evaluate your own stressors and create ways to address them. Taking a few minutes before a trip to determine some of the elements that might cause anxiety, and then develop some coping mechanisms. Find some homey places near your hotel that you may escape to when the pressure builds.
Use techniques, such as massage, progressive relaxation, and visualization to calm yourself down. Whether you are in the midst of a trans-Atlantic flight or sitting through an all-day meeting, something as simple as deep breathing or getting up from your seat and taking a quick stretch can help. Many airports have masseurs available. The next time your blood pressure rises because of a flight delay or cancellation, seek out one of these unique storefronts in the terminal to help ease your frustration.

Home Away From Home

One of the most neglected aspects of work travel is the stress arising from being away from home. Business travel can make your job a 24-hour-a-day affair, and personal life has no role. But all work and no play, even in small blocks, often results in burnout. No one knows this better than top management consultants, who traditionally spend weeks away from their home base.
Try some of these tips the next time you're away from home:
  • Take some quiet time in the morning before you head out of your hotel room.
  • Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep just as you would at home.
  • Learn how to say no. Just because you are on a working trip doesn't mean you are on-call. Try to restrict work to work hours.
  • Learn your stress triggers and try to avoid them. If you can't, take some time to learn how to cope with them.
It may be difficult to enjoy the wonders of a new city while you're working, but it may not be impossible either. If you can, schedule some evening activities without your coworkers in tow. You may find that going to a movie is enough to help you relax and maintain focus.
Some people find that the coldness of a hotel space can be made more intimate with items from home. Tom B., a New Hampshire management consultant, carries small photos of his family with him, which he displays on the nightstand in whatever hotel he happens to land. He also packs his favorite robe and coffee mug. "It makes the room a bit more intimate," he says, "I'd rather look up and see my wife and kids than just another advertisement card for hotel room service."

Ways to Reach Out

Travelers also need to stay in touch with those at home, especially with children.If you're on the road a lot, establish a routine that your child can look forward to.One frequent traveler has an inviolable story-telling date each night with her son. Eight p.m. is story time, regardless of where she is in the world.
The technology that keeps you in touch with your office from the road can also keep you in contact with your family. Try making use of e-mail to help your children with their homework.
Though it is tempting to use your time away to focus on work and limit home life to a five-minute phone call, doing so may actually harm your performance. Staying in touch with your family and friends may seem like just one more thing in an already overcrowded schedule, but those connections are the very things that help you cope with business stress.
Computer programs allow you something more than just a phone call. When you can, use programs such as Skype or FaceTime that allow you to have video conversations.
In the end, you have to evaluate your priorities. Ultimately, what is more important to you? You will likely determine that you work to live, not the other way around.

RESOURCES

American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org

Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org

Canadian Psychological Association http://www.cpa.ca

References

Internal/external stress factors. Reduce Stress Now website. Available at: http://www.reducestressnow.org/facts-about-stress/factors-of-stress. Accessed November 27, 2013.

Preventing burnout. Helpguide website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout%5Fsigns%5Fsymptoms.htm. Updated November 2013. Accessed November 27, 2013.

Shanafelt TD, West CP. Principles to promote physican satisfaction and work-life balance. Minn Med. 2008;91(12):41-43.

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