Photo by J.S. Chroe
Imagine volunteering for an psychology experiment. You walk into a small room and are strapped into a seat measuring 17″ across (that’s five inches more than a foot) with a meager 31″ between you and the barrier in front of you.
The lab assistant in the white coat instructs you to ignore everything that you might hear and adds they will be bringing refreshments soon. As you squirm to get comfortable, you hear what appears to be babies screaming behind you and an ugly fight between a man and a woman.
“How much longer?” you ask the absent assistant. A voice booms from a hidden loudspeaker. “You’re doing fine. Just relax.”
Randomly the back of your chair is jolted by what feels like a well placed kick. Then the chair swoops up and down at alarming intervals.
To increase your stress level, you are given alternate doses of caffeine (to speed you up) and alcohol (to slow you down). Every so often you are offered high fat, calorie-laden ‘snacks’. Finally, the experimenter lowers the humidity to 10% and adjusts the perceived altitude to 8000 feet.
Now you are directed to NOT MOVE for three hours.
Would you volunteer for such an experiment? If so, what would they have to PAY you to stay?
Of course, we do volunteer for such an experiment every time we fly, only we pay them instead. Paradoxically we often arrive at our destination wired to the max and totally exhausted. That’s not a fun way to start a vacation OR an important business trip.
I use 4 strategies to minimize the stressors (including jet lag) that plague us every time we travel. They are water, sunlight, exercise, and targeted stress management.
Symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, headaches, constipation, and malaise. Often what we attribute to hunger AND jet lag is simply a need for water.
So stay hydrated. Drink ample amounts of water the day before a trip, and carry water with you on the drive to the airport. I’ve suggested in an earlier post a good way to get an empty container through check-in. Don’t wait for the stewards to bring you a drink (that won’t occur until they level off at cruising altitude), but have your own with you.
Reach for the juices rather than coffee or alcohol when the Stewards pass by. Ask for water AND a beverage. They will oblige.
Bring eye drops for your eyes and a salt water spray for your nose. Apply skin moisturizer liberally.
BE KIND TO YOUR BODY
Be in shape before you start. Your body will recover faster from the physical stress of travel.
Then, while in flight, plan to get up and walk about the cabin every hour. Do stretching exercises in your seat. Take slippers or unlace your shoes to let your toes breathe—remember to wiggle them every so often.
It’s worth the effort. Did you realize researchers have estimated that people who exercised on the plane performed 60% better than non-exercisers?
If you want to nap, plan ahead. Bring along a blow-up C-shaped pillow to support your neck and, for longer trips, an eye-shade to block out light. To minimize grogginess, time your nap so that you are NOT in the middle of a deep sleep cycle when the flight is scheduled to touch down.
I find it fascinating that left to our own devices, humans actually have a 25 hour day. (Did we come from Mars, or what?) We have an ingenious way of synchronizing our internal clock to external time by calculating the amount of sunlight in our environment.
Unfortunately, this synchronization process is geared to horse-and-buggy, days, not to the speed of jet travel. Adjustment takes time. It is longer going East to West, and adjustment is more extended for older people. Sorry, that’s just the way we are built.
However, you can maximize the adjustment process by getting sunlight at the right times. Go walk outside in daylight as soon as you can after landing. Even 15 minutes of such exercise will help the biological clock reset faster.
DIRECTED STRESS MANAGEMENT
Two major stress management techniques for travel are to minimize the stressors that you can; accept and anticipate those that you cannot.
First, the stressors under your control. Work to minimize anxiety of the unknown and unfamiliar.
Try to pack and plan your itinerary TWO days before you leave, rather than the night before. It gives you a chance to mentally go over the list before you are halfway to the airport.
Have a checklist, even of basic stuff: stop the newspaper, let the neighbors know you are leaving, even a check-off for turning off ALL the lights and LOCKING the front door. You won’t worry about it on the drive to the plane. If you recharge your laptop batteries you won’t be searching for an outlet in the terminal.
Do a Mapquest of where you are staying, along with the address, and put it in a spot you’ll find easily when you are tired at the end of a long flight.
When possible on routine travel, stay at the same hotel, and stay in a room that is oriented the same way. Hotel rooms are often bookends, and there is nothing more disorienting that turning right instead of left in a room that only looks familiar.
Set two alarm clocks. Your cell phone usually equipped with an alarm feature. AND schedule a wake-up call. That way you don’t have to worry about oversleeping when you are groggy from that ‘First Night’ effect.
If you are staying at the same hotel as a conference, scout out the meeting room early. Decide where you want to sit, put down a place holder, and THEN go get some breakfast.
Stay on a fixed daily routine as much as possible, including a wind-down time at the end of the day. People traveling in tour groups experience much fewer symptoms of jet lag than solo travelers because their routines are fixed and predictable.
Business travelers often overestimate their effectiveness. If possible, don’t schedule any important conferences until, if possible, the mid-part of the day.
Stressors NOT under your control:
Accept that travel IS stressful.
Air flights are late, ground transportation is sometimes unreliable. It sometimes snows, sleets, rains, and pours where you may be going.
If you develop an attitude of wonder of what might present itself, rather than an expectation of what must occur, your trip will be less stressful as well.
Take mini-breaks when you stretch and breathe deeply.
Minimizing the unhealthy effects of jet lag and travel fatigue requires a battle-ready diligence.
But the more you can be present to what IS happening, the more you increase chances of a positive outcome at your destination!
Photo by Chris Gin