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Is Business Travel Bad for Your Health? The Risks of Alcohol, Depression, and Relationship Stress

February 18th, 2017 /

I woke up to the sound of a phone ringing on the bedside table, and it took me a good ten seconds to figure out where I was, which city I was in, and why I was there. I’d like to say this was a rare occurrence, but the truth is, it used to happen every month or two. After years of frequent travel for business, it’s easy to lose sense of your body’s natural rhythms.

That’s why, about two years ago, I decided to re-evaluate my priorities as an executive. I’d read the research about the risks of alcoholism, depression, and stress enough times to be wary when those statistics started to resonate with me. If you’re in the same boat as a frequent business traveler, I’d encourage you to pay attention to the early warning signs in order to minimize your own risk.

Alcohol is just one of the health hazards of frequent business travel

Frequent business travelers are at higher risk for excessive alcohol consumption. Image by Flickr user Philip Shannon (CC BY 2.0)

Alcohol: It’s All Fun And Games Until…

Especially for professionals just starting out on a travel-heavy career, the “vacation lifestyle” can be attractive. You furnish a tray of mimosas at a casual brunch, meet clients for happy hour, then join a wine-pairing dinner that turns into a night out. It’s fun, it’s novel—and it will come as no surprise that executives who take frequent business trips are at a higher risk than the general population for developing habits of excessive alcohol consumption. The trouble with living a vacation lifestyle every day is that it’s unsustainable.  

The obvious advice here is to avoid alcohol when you can. It’s more doable than you might think, but you do need to be willing to experiment with interactions that don’t require drinking: a walk through Central Park, a farmers’ market lunch, or even a trip to an amusement park instead of the normal happy hour outings. Done well, it’ s a chance to make a lasting impact on clients while building your own confidence.

But honestly, it can be difficult to admit that you’ve hit the point where these types of steps are necessary. The best advice I have to offer is to seek support if you feel things starting to spiral out of control—whether that means reaching out to an old friend for a long talk or seeking help from a professional.

Depression can make you take stock of just how harmful business travel can be to your health

Depression can easily escape your notice—so always to be aware of your well-being. Image by Flickr user ryan melaugh (CC BY 2.0)

Depression: The Roaring Beast That Only You Can Hear

Feeling tired is normal, especially when you’re flying dozens of times a year. But feeling exhausted to your very core, wishing you could sleep for the rest of your life, and struggling to get up in the morning for months on end is a sign that you need to pay more attention to your body.

The wear and tear of travel is on a continuum. Each individual has a different point at which they’ll need to pause and take stock. So if you start to pick up on sleep changes, differences in personal motivation, lack of interest in hobbies you used to enjoy, or abrupt mood swings, these may be warning signs that your mental health is taking a hit.

Many cases of depression are circumstantial—meaning that if you took a break from everything you’re doing and relaxed on the beach for a month, you’d probably feel a lot better. If this is you, try to at least implement small lifestyle changes: a daily walk in the sunshine, a more vegetable-heavy diet, and an hour or two of relaxation on especially hectic days. Traveling with a mindset of self-care can make a difference. And, if it lies within your power, it might be time to take an actual vacation, or at least put a hold on additional business trips.

But there also cases of depression that are more difficult to remedy. When nothing seems to work and you’re filled with dread about the coming months without really knowing why, it might be time to reach out to a professional. Know your threshold, and learn to recognize when you’ve crossed it. Frequent travel and a stressful lifestyle can sometimes exacerbate underlying issues.

Is business travel bad for your health? It can be, depending on how you manage your stress

We all strive for human connection, especially when travel keeps us away from home. Image by Flickr user Yoel Ben-Avraham (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Social Stress: When Relationships Become Your Worst Nightmare

It’s difficult to travel alone, but it can be even more difficult to return to a relationship that’s become tense or lukewarm in your absence. 70% of business travelers surveyed in 2012 believed that too much time away from home “[could] result in a failed marriage or relationship,” and while that outcome may sound extreme, the stress that travel puts on families and partners is nothing to be scoffed at.

There’s unfortunately no silver bullet for warding off failed relationship—except, perhaps, just keeping the lines of communication open as much as possible. Look for ways to build connections with your loved ones even when you’re gone. Small rituals will go far: have one conversation (through phone, text, or email) with a loved one every day, no matter how brief. Leave a good night message for your spouse if you’re on different sleep schedules. Start a group message with friends from home every couple of weeks so that you can update each other on the minutia of life.  

You may even want to scale back your traveling to spend more time at home with your immediate family. This serves the added benefit of giving you more resources to devote to the trips you do take. You can plan each journey with intention, choosing travel and lodging options that will leave you with a clear head.

Maybe you aren’t able to take time off from business travel. A JetLux Hotels membership is one helpful tool for relieving a little of the stress. Your personal reservationist will book you rooms at the best hotels in the country for corporate rates. We’d be happy to get you signed up.

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