How to manage anxiety when travelling

How to manage anxiety when travelling

Anxiety symptoms often worsen in uncertain situations – and travelling during a pandemic only exacerbates this. But it’s not only generalised anxiety sufferers who will notice increased levels of uneasiness during COVID times.  As business travel resumes, even the most seasoned business travellers may experience anxiety, too.

Emma-Louise Robertson, Medical Team Leader and Registered Nurse for World Travel Protection, one of the largest emergency assistance organisations in the world, comments on what individuals can do to reduce anxiety when travelling, and what organisations can do to support travelling staff.

“Business travel can cause additional anxiety for people. A trigger can be fear of being in unknown situations, and while for most of us, feelings of anxiety are brief, the pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues, and even the most seasoned travellers can experience anxiety.   

“We know that travellers are concerned about catching Covid-19 during their travels, as well as the worry and concern about getting home, the threat of new variants, and the fear and inconvenience of possibly having to experience hotel quarantine.

“International travel will be challenging for at least the rest of the year, with, for example, the potential for sudden border closures, new quarantine measures and testing requirements or new rules or regulations regarding social contact and interaction, all contributing towards an unsettling and changeable picture. Also, not forgetting more traditional stress points for travellers such as airport security, border customs and passport control, which are more complex and involved now than before the pandemic. 

“Understanding and managing anxiety is important for all organisations with travelling populations.  People suffering from anxiety may notice physical symptoms, like nervousness or restlessness, feelings of panic or being ‘on edge’, rapid breathing and pulse, difficulty focusing and increased sweating.

“The key to reducing anxiety while travelling is spending time preparing for all eventualities. Think of what could trigger the anxiety or be causing nervousness about an upcoming journey, and write- down a plan before departure to better manage any triggers. For example, if you have to change planes or are visiting more than one destination, break the journey down and organise as much in advance as possible including ground transfers. It might be worth considering a meet-and-greet with a transfer at your final location to minimise fears.

“There’s also a lot that companies can do to support and reassure their travelling staff and having a robust risk travel management strategy in place is essential for this. Pre-travel briefings, including what has changed since Covid-19, should deliver practical and insightful information to ensure that a traveller feels reassured during every stage of the trip. They should know the environment they are heading to as well as the logistics in place to get them from A to B. Then, while they’re away, organisations should be conducting additional ‘check-ins’ to ensure they are properly supported and to simply check that they are okay. This allows information on the latest advice for a destination to be passed on and additional support provided.

“Whilst it is difficult to plan exactly for changing circumstances, organisations should keep a close eye on new Covid-19 variants and countries’ vaccine programmes to help with contingency planning.

“It is crucial that employers recognise the impact that the pandemic has had on a lot of people and that even staff who previously were experienced travellers may now need support. Staff need to know that their mental health is taken seriously, and that their employers will support them at this time.”

Ideas to reduce travel anxiety include:

  • Know what the testing requirements are pre- or post-travel, any quarantine requirements and where you can access COVID testing and medical facilities before you even leave home;
  • Avoid any last-minute, “just before you leave home” packing to help reduce that dreaded feeling of having forgotten something once you’ve left home;
  • Use a pre-booked airport transfer service to reduce stress related to travelling to the airport;
  • Get familiar with your travel itinerary and know which airport terminal, the check-in and boarding time, and makes sure to arrive at the gate well in advance;
  • Ensure key contact details are saved in your phone and have international roaming on to allow for emergency calls, including to contact your travel assistance provider;
  • Having your full set of documents easily accessible, such as your passport, travel insurance policy or assistance details, credit cards, and copies of your COVID tests and/or vaccination record;
  • Put medication in hand luggage with a doctor’s letter, and include written instructions if necessary;
  • Keep a spare surgical mask, hand sanitiser and/or bacterial wipes with a pair of clothes in your hand luggage in case of any delays;
  • Check your main luggage into the hold to enable you to pass through the airport security checkpoints more easily;
  • At check-in, asking for a seat away from the toilets and galley which are noisy busy areas, and ask if there are seats available surrounded by unbooked empty seats if the flight is not full;
  • Pack activities to reduce stress (such as a puzzle book), and bring noise-reducing headphones to listen to podcasts, music etc.;
  • Use a guided meditation app before boarding the plane or just before take-off;
  • Change your watch to the destination country once on board the plane, and try to sleep at the appropriate times if on a long-haul flight.

For more information visit the World Travel Protection website 

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