Anvil Group publishes Advisory for Business Travellers in support of Mental Health Awareness Week
At least one in four people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime, while depression is the biggest cause of disability worldwide. With triggers for depression and anxiety including stressful events and periods of significant change, those undertaking frequent travel as part of their role are among those particularly susceptible.
Mental Health Awareness Week is the UK's national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. Mental Health Awareness Week runs from Monday 13 - Friday 19 May 2019 and has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001.
The following advice has been prepared by Anvil Group's in-house medical team. It provides business travellers (and others) information on some of the mental health issues that can affect them plus steps they can take to address these.
GENERAL WELLBEING ADVICE FOR BUSINESS TRAVELLERS
Wherever your employees are working, and however frequent their travel, mental health is an issue that can affect all.
Mental health encompasses an individual’s total emotional, psychological and social wellbeing; their resilience in challenging situations and their ability to cope. It is not uncommon to feel in low mood, sad, anxious or overwhelmed by emotion at certain times. These feelings can be perfectly normal but if such feelings are affecting an individual’s day to day life over a prolonged period of time it can be distressing and isolating.
Here are a few examples of mental health issues that can be experienced and possible treatments.
Stress is very subjective. To some extent a certain level of stress makes us productive and provides focus.
Increased stress levels become problematic and cause physical symptoms such as altered sleep patterns, poor concentration, an increase in alcohol consumption and/or smoking, headaches and a change in appetite to name but a few.
Ongoing stress can be harmful to health, for example, the development of inflammatory disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or psoriasis.
Ways of alleviating stress can include keeping a diary to see when situations become stressful; talking things over with a colleague, friend or loved one; taking part in physical exercise or relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or meditation.
Anxiety could be described as feeling afraid or worried.
Physical symptoms may include the feeling of a racing or irregular heartbeat, nausea, sweating, headache, fast breathing or chest pains.
These feelings occur as the body’s natural response to stressors (for example, reaction to dangerous or life threatening events - commonly referred to as a “fight or flight” response).
When these feelings/reactions occur with no justifiable reason or the reaction is disproportionate it can be troubling. This can occur for a number of reasons - chemical “imbalance” within the brain, genetics or stressful events, to name a few.
Many treatments for anxiety disorders are non-medical as symptoms can be controlled by talking therapies (such as counselling or support groups) or self-management (using media such as apps or self-help books). In some instances medication may be required but this should be discussed with a primary care physician.
Depression can vary in severity and is diagnosed based on a series of symptoms.
Depression is generally recognised as “persistent low mood” (over weeks or months rather than days), feeling tearful, loss of interest in activities or no joy in activities previously enjoyed. Other symptoms can include tiredness and more acute physical symptoms such as chest pain or headaches.
Depending on the number of these experienced within a certain timescale, severity of the condition can be established. The exact causes of depression are not known but can be linked to life stress events or genetic predisposition. Those with long-term physical conditions may also be more likely to become depressed.
Speaking to your general practice physician is recommended. Treatment options include talking therapies or cognitive behaviour therapy, self-help books or support groups.
In many cases medical treatment is required with anti-depressant medication in addition to the psychological therapies previously mentioned.
Talking thoughts and feelings through with a loved one, and self-care via mindfulness techniques or taking some time out from work can also help. Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption or recreational drug use is strongly advised as these can exacerbate symptoms of depression. St John’s wort is a treatment available without prescription, but its use is NOT recommended without seeking medical advice – it can have serious side effects and be harmful for some individuals. Other emerging natural treatment options include Omega 3 supplements and the recommendation to follow a more “Mediterranean style” diet rich in olive oil.
Anyone with suicidal thoughts must contact a health professional immediately.
GENERAL WELLBEING TIPS WHILE TRAVELLING
For regular travellers, there are a number of things that can be done to help reduce the risk of wellbeing being negatively impacted.
Ensure that you have all of your travel documentation printed and handy.
Identify your work commitments, meeting venues, any hotel bookings and transit times – and prepare for delays as these can be stressful. Delays are often inevitable so view them as a useful time for reading or prepping notes, rather than wasted time.
If possible arrange meetings around your home time zone - the middle of the day is believed to be the most productive time for business travellers.
If travelling through different time zones, sleep patterns can be disrupted. It’s easier to cope with gaining time than losing time and it can take a day to adapt to each hour of time difference so factor this into your schedule.
Ensure you get enough rest before you travel. Business travellers, even on a short trip, can lose the equivalent of one night’s sleep, therefore, adequate rest before travel will be beneficial to help you begin your trip more positively.
Try to avoid taking sleeping medication whilst flying as reduced movement can increase your risk of developing a blood clot.
It is possible to adjust your circadian rhythm by increasing time spent in daylight during the day, and reducing exposure to bright lights when it is dark. HEV rays (High Energy Visible light) - the blue light emitted from digital devices - can have a negative effect on sleep patterns. High levels of HEV rays are present in daylight, so it’s no surprise that exposure to this type of light in darkness hours can disrupt sleep patterns.
Tempting as it is to use phones or tablets if unable to sleep, try to avoid doing so as it will make a good night’s sleep less likely.
Sleep disruptions caused by travelling can significantly affect performance, so factor this in when arranging meetings and activities. In contrast, exercise has a positive effect on performance, so travellers would be advised to make use of any gym facilities available, or get out in the daylight for a walk where possible.
Try to keep to a regular sleep routine and think about a ‘sleep kit’ - ear plugs, sleep masks, pillow mist, relaxing music, a good book or whatever will help you feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Food and drink
Drink plenty of water if travelling by plane as air travel is known to be dehydrating. Likewise avoid alcohol and caffeine as these are both dehydrating - be mindful that one alcoholic drink in the air is the equivalent to two on the ground.
If water quality cannot be guaranteed then use bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing and avoid ice cubes and salad (it may have been washed in contaminated water).
Make sure that you eat regularly.
Be mindful when eating “unfamiliar” food types as they can potentially have unpleasant side effects and may make you unwell if you’re not used to them.
If you are feeling low, isolated or unhappy whilst travelling, (as can happen if you are away from your family, friends or familiar environment) try not to feel distressed. A call home may help, as can arranging to meet up for a drink or a meal with any travel companions or local contacts.
Depending on where you are travelling, it’s worth considering that you may see an increased level of rough sleeping or poverty.
Gender discrimination, racism or other forms of prejudice may also be prevalent in some countries.
Language can be another concern. If you do not speak the local language this may lead to feelings of stress or anxiety, so be prepared.
If you have a pre-existing mental health issue and are on medication, ensure that you have sufficient medication for your trip. In addition, check if the medication you need is classed as a restricted item in the country that you are visiting.
There are a number of apps recommended by the NHS relating to wellbeing. These include: BlueIce, Silvercloud, Stress and Anxiety Companion, leso, Catch It, Big White Wall, FearFighter, Calm Harm and Be Mindful.
Although not all-encompassing, the above advice can go some way towards helping business travellers to counter some of the potential negative impacts brought about by travelling.
Should anyone have more serious concerns about their mental health, they should seek professional advice from a medical professional.
About Anvil Group
Anvil Group is a global travel and operational risk company that protects people, property and performance against risks. As part of their wider operational risk remit, Anvil Group works with and advises organisations around the world on how to fulfil their duty of care to overseas workers, international assignees and relocatees. Through their in-house medical assistance service, Anvil Assist, Anvil provides clinician-delivered medical assistance as part of a fully integrated end-to-end risk management solution. With a team of highly skilled in-house counsellors, Anvil can provide a remote counselling service over Skype and telephone to suit the needs of their international clientele.