In the face of stressful challenges, how should the frequent flyer manage their wellness to get the best out of their business trips? In our mini-series, we'll be asking experts in nutrition, fitness, mental wellbeing and sleep for their advice on using these tools to help build resilience on the road.
To outsiders, business trips look to be glamorous, luxury, exciting opportunities to see the world whilst the company foots the bill. However, there’s darker side of business travel and the stress it places on employee’s wellbeing. Firstly, we need to understand what the specific challenges of a life on the road are that we need to build strength for.
Preparation is Key
Preparation is the most important skill the frequent flyer should learn to master to adopt an approach to building resilience needed for traveling.
Before boarding, the flyer’s baseline of health is of huge importance; it can affect performance, productivity and acclimatisation. The assumption that everyone who steps on an aircraft is ‘Fit to Fly’ is misleading.
Most frequent flyers will readily relate to stress and how it manifests in their emotions. Executives have an element of autonomy in their day to day life so it can be hard to step on a plane or arrive at a new destination faced with circumstances they can’t influence. The frustration can be stressful and needs a mental coping mechanism. Stressful circumstances beyond the travelers control include; a continuously changing over packed schedule, responsibility for closing deals, time zone changes impacting one’s inability to sleep and eat at the right times, if at all, the need to be entertaining as either the host or a guest at over indulgent client dinners whilst managing and leading teams in different office locations with the associated culture difference. For the smooth running of a trip, keeping in constant real-time liaison with the only person who has control of the schedule and can make or break it, the PA, is paramount. It goes without saying that remaining contactable and supportive with family life back home is of utmost importance as is delivering the optimal performance in meetings that the business expects of you. Not quite so glamorous anymore.
Super Human Travellers?
This is before we’ve even begun addressing the role our wellness plays. Sitting is the new smoking and for frequent flyers, this often happens in front of a laptop combined with sitting on an aircraft (whatever the class) for hours whilst crossing time zones. Combined, they greatly impact the traveller’s wellbeing without even realising it. Technology can be part of the challenge (if overused) whilst being part of the solution. Living with technology is negatively impacting our health through light as the interactions with our bodies are known disruptors of hormones and our circadian rhythms. To add to the stress, in-flight WIFI has led businesses to expect more from their ‘super human’ frequent traveller, as if they had anything left to give. Now they are expected to continue working during the flight, responding immediately to all communication as if they were still in the office. Gone are the halcyon days of watching a movie with a sleep-inducing tipple, whilst unavoidably being out of signal to get some respite before the business demands begin on landing.
Businesses are failing to appreciate or understand the physical and mental impact traveling has on their top executives and the impact this places on their bottom line. A golden executive in London may not represent the business to the same high standards after traveling round the world to Sydney, due to the physiological effects of 24 hours of travelling. Symptoms of extreme levels of cognitive impairment can appear the executive is drunk.
Are You Fit to Fly?
Being ‘Fit to Fly’ increases the resilience of the traveller, helping them acclimatise. For every time zone crossed, the body can require up to a full day to recover. Taking the example of a three-day return trip to New York from London, the body could require up to 10 days to readjust to the stresses placed on it by traveling. Short term, current performance strategies are fuelled by adrenalin, placing the traveler in constant ‘fight mode’ (the bodies main coping mechanism when under stress and danger). But adrenalin is only a temporary fix, it can’t last long – a crash and burn is inevitable when the trip is over. On returning to the original destination, the body needs to decompress and readjust from ‘fight’ to ‘flight’ mode, acclimatising to the stresses it has undergone.
The traveling executive can’t hit the ground running at both destinations without being ‘Fit to Fly’. Many frequent travelers experience feelings of demotivation on returning, some say they are unintentionally unforgiving with their family which pains them without realising these are normal reactions post traveling.
In future blog posts we'll be showing you, the traveler, how to get 'fit to fly' in our mini video exercise series.
To add to the existing pressures, businesses are cutting costs, the most obvious being a downgrade from business to economy class. However, without understanding the impact of frequent travel on personnel, this is a false economy saving money in one area, whilst creating associated medical and absenteeism costs in another.
But there is hope, the traveler can take control of this situation. In the first of our mini-series we’ll examine how using nutrition as a tool to help build resilience on the road is a great way to take control of your diet and positively impact mental wellbeing to manage stress.
Until then, travel safely.
Further advice and guidance is available in the IATA passenger medical clearance guidelines, the Aerospace Medical Association and, if the passenger has made a booking, from the airline medical department (where there is one).
The Aviation Health Unit can also be contacted for advice Mon-Fri 0830 to 1630 hours by contacting 01293 573674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.