Mental Health Tips for Workers without Offices
Even in the modern world of work, the classic view of workplace wellness tends to relate to a bricks and mortar office environment representative of the 9-5 culture. As remote working and extended time-away assignments feature increasingly on the workplace landscape, a conversation about how travellers are affected by mental health is overdue. Stress, a factor in mental health challenges, is a regular feature in the life of the average business traveller. Travel affords the opportunity for unmanageable stress factors as we go about our business in a global and technologically advancing economy, where disruption and change feature as standard.
If you travel often, work-life balance, relationships and the unknown factors of work on the road play into the narrative of unmanageable overwhelm, which can lead to mental health challenges. As a business owner with a travel career of twenty years myself, and as an observer of the travel wellness industry, I hope to add to the conversation for those remote-working travellers who might otherwise get left out of the conversation purely because they don’t inhabit a typical office environment.
At its peak, I used to travel transatlantic 3-4 times a month. Once the novelty wore off, one of the first things I noticed over time was listlessness and creeping fatigue (separate from jet lag) that impacted my decision-making acuity. Hard deadlines were the saving grace in some situations, however, the toll and sheer amount of energy it took to break through the rut could sometimes feel prohibitive. The impact of this over time led to inefficiencies, lost opportunity and second guessing myself.
On the surface you could say it was a natural part of the territory as a frequent flier. The truth is it was taxing my ability to deliver. Frustration borne of instances like this felt like Groundhog Day with few options to vent or process. When I examine what got me out of those ruts, what it boiled down to was recognising the nature of the environment I was operating in and the limitations of my own ability given the circumstances. A dedicated helpline also existed within the business to help with the isolation that often accompanies this type of non-stationary work arrangement. While I didn’t use the helpline, it was good to know help was at hand should the occasion arise. You can read the IoD’s factsheet on Employee Assistance Programmes, such as employee helplines, here.
Like it or not, the changing geopolitical nature of the world impacts our journey within it and intended outcomes are never certain. Flight itself - being fraught with risk - leaves an added underlying feeling of uncertainty, even if it is not palpable. Couple that with the fact that passage through airports is stressful and the scene is set for an undercurrent of stress to be present in the comings and goings of business travellers. Personally, I instinctively turned to creating habits and routines to focus my mind while travelling, which went some way to keeping underlying stresses at bay; this helped strip out the below-the-surface stress. The bottom-line question is: what do you have at your disposal to instill calm and focus?
Throughout this important conversation, little attention is given to the impact of trans-latitudinal travel on the hormonal health of fliers. I mention this specifically as I think it is important to note how it feeds into mental health. We have multifarious stress triggers: travel patterns that tax our melatonin production due to unbalanced daylight exposure, which in turn interferes with other hormonal outputs. The hormonal health and emotional link is well-established and lays the ground for mental health challenges if not dealt with, and it’s worth remembering this as a business leader that is constantly on the move.
I’ve seen colleagues buckle under the strain of stress mid-trip due to circumstances beyond their control; my recipe for not succumbing to a similar fate was changing my psychology through my physiology- a regular healthy exercise habit.
The research paper “A Darker Side of Hypermobility” by Cohen and Gossling* highlights frequent fliers are susceptible to mental health challenges and the expectation for business leaders to be ever present puts them at heightened risk. The paper suggests hypermobility (frequent travel) instigates psychological and emotional strain in social cohesion, and goes on to say psychological, emotional and mental illness are not far behind. Studies of consular psychiatry noted how pathological tourism fosters mad travellers who had severely disrupted concepts of their personal identity. While business travellers cannot be described as pathological tourists, some of the commentary rings true by degree.
Currently, mindfulness is in favour in the workplace wellness space and to my mind this is one varient of meditation. Meditation became a part of my life as a useful tool to help me manage the ups and downs of the journey and my workload. While I no longer travel as intensely for work, on reflection if I were to think of what else saw me through, I would have to point to the supportive culture that existed in the workspace wherever I could find it, keeping a close-knit community of like-minded friends (as confidants) in and out of the workspace, and prioritising my health and fitness as part of the solution. As business leaders, it can be easy to accept compromises to your lifestyle that prioritise the success of your company, but it should never be to the detriment of your mental health. Through careful planning and conscious coping strategies, it can be possible to operate globally in person, without the strain on your body and – crucially – your mind.
IoD Advance member Christopher Babayode is an entrepreneur and founder of NoJetStress.com, a specialist in Travel Wellness and healthy jet lag solutions for those who travel often.
* Cohen, Scott & Gössling, Stefan. (2015). A darker side of hypermobility. Environment and Planning A. 47. 10.1177/0308518X15597124