Is there any other guilt more insidious than business travel guilt? While your friends and family believe you to be quaffing cocktails and sightseeing, you know the reality is you’ll feel compelled to be in work mode at all times to prove you aren’t slacking off.
However, down time is incredibly important when travelling for work, because it allows your brain to rest and recharge. Dr Wendy Li, Psychological Health Lead Clinician at AXA PPP healthcare says: “Finding time to relax allows your body and mind to recuperate, allowing you to be more alert and productive during the day.”
It also prevents burnout and stress - which can be quite hard to spot if you’re consumed with your workload.
The signs that you might need to log off tend to be fairly subtle. However, Dr Chheda-Varma, psychologist at Nightingale Hospital says: “Sleep, poor appetite and loss of sense of pleasure and achievement are early signs. Physiological signs of burnout present through weakened immune system, migraines, gut issues, etc.
“Psychologically, increased stress, anxiety, worry and a ruminative mind are signs of burnout. Then there is mood imbalance i.e. Periods of low mood blended with some periods of anxiety become more evident as burnout becomes severe.”
Burnout is actually easily preventable, but because it starts off as low level anxiety or stress, it’s often hard to catch before it tips over into something more serious. Classic signs are over-reacting to emails (we’ve all been there), losing your temper and over-tiredness.
Checking in with yourself emotionally may seem silly, awkward even, but it’s a great way of figuring out how you really feel beyond: “I’m fine.”
Georgie Oldfield, Physiotherapist & Founder of SIRPA (Stress Illness Recovery Practitioner’s Association) says: “In the western world there’s a tendency to be on the go all the time and feel the need to be busy and productive. With so much technology these days there are also so many distractions and demands for our attention and time, as well as an expectation that we need to respond to things immediately, therefore putting even more pressure on us.
“In fact, I would suggest that most people are so distracted by what’s going on in their lives that they are oblivious most of the time to how they are actually FEELING. As an example, sitting down to watch the TV in an evening, although relaxing for the body, is still stimulating to the mind and is a distraction from how we are feeling and our ability to process everything.”
Switching off your phone or putting it on airplane mode for a bit certainly helps because it gives your brain a rest. “Phone checking has become a part of our subconscious behaviour,” says Dr Li, “an automated response to so many situations. We may use our phone in uncomfortable social situations as a way to manage our stress and worry rather than facing up to difficult emotions.
“Rather than revert immediately to your phone when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or nerve wracking situation whilst travelling for business, take some time out and practice deep breathing.”
Sticking to healthy routines especially around sleep is especially important when you’re not in your natural environment. Sleep has such a huge impact on irritability levels, the ability to cope with stress and process what you’ve learned during the day.
“Taking a break from technology and work allows our brain to consolidate important and/or new neuronal pathways which help us form new behaviours or learn new information daily,” says Dr Chedda-Varma.
Curbing your tech at night especially is advised - which can be hard if you want to check your social media or watch Netflix before bed. But it does pay off.
Dr Li says: “The brain interprets the light they emit to mean it’s daytime, which can prevent you from switching off and winding down to go to sleep properly. This light, especially when received in short wavelengths, suppresses the production of melatonin, a brain chemical which helps you fall asleep.
“So, using these gadgets can trigger an erratic sleeping pattern; you may delay sleeping because you are internet shopping, then, when struggling to sleep, instead of trying a relaxation technique, you may check social media - so it becomes a vicious circle.
“Use your gadgets sparingly. If you’re on your laptop or phone all day checking emails, occupy your downtime with a bath or a long walk.”
Dr Li has some tips for what to do when you switch off:
- Exercise. This does not have to be anything excessive, even a walk outside can help
- Put on your favourite music, sit back and listen
- Read a book or, if you’d rather, your favourite magazine or newspaper
- Take a long bath
- Phone a loved one
- Mindful meditation – this can be done anywhere and everywhere; take some deep breaths and try to clear your mind
- Go for a massage
- Get some fresh air – if you feel like work is getting on top of you, step outside for as little as a few minutes to refresh yourself