By Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN
Travel should be fun, exciting and enjoyable. Planning ahead can help you cope with any worries or fears that can accompany your travel plans. Here are some common problems associated with air travel and tips on how you can manage, overcome or prevent illness and discomfort:
Jet lag is a form of disorientation and fatigue caused by abruptly switching to a different sleep/wake schedule. This occurs when the body’s circadian (24 hour) clock struggles to adjust its normal rhythms to your new destination. Traveling across time zones creates confusion within the body as sleep patterns are interrupted. Short term consequences of missed sleep can result in impaired memory and speech functions and an impaired ability to think and process information.
- An east-west flight of less than 4 hours may cause stiffness and irritability. A longer flight may cause varied symptoms of digestive problems, dehydration, headache, disorientation, anxiety, nausea or constipation.
- To minimize jet lag, try shifting your sleep patterns by an hour or two for a few days before your flight and get a good night’s sleep before your trip.
- Try to sleep on the plane. A window seat is a better choice for longer flights as you can prop yourself against the wall and can avoid being disturbed when your seat mates get up. Here’s where your travel pillow, an eye mask and noise cancelling head phones come in handy.
- Once you arrive, exist solely on the local time to quickly realign your circadian clock and have as normal a day as possible. If you arrive in the morning, get some daylight and fresh air, try to push through to an early dinner and then get a good night’s sleep.
- Changes in temperature and eating times can also contribute to travel fatigue.
Even those without fear of flying can suffer from anxiety regarding travel. Fatigue and anxiety can wreak havoc on the immune system.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as listening to soothing music, enjoying a good book or watching an in-flight movie.
- Try creative visualization. Imagine yourself at your destination and all the wonderful things you plan to do there.
- Cut back on caffeine. Stay hydrated by drinking water and get plenty of rest before your flight.
- Hand over control. Anxiety is often about needing control and the lack of the ability to have control in certain situations. The Captain is a professional who wants to arrive as safely as you do and accepting that fact may reduce anxiety.
- Scheduling a minimum of 45 minutes for layovers between flights may also help reduce anxiety.
- Use the power of distraction. Bring with you items that will distract from the flight such as crossword puzzles, a good book, or portable games. Striking up a conversation with your seat partners can help pass the time and keep your mind occupied.
- Take good care of your body and nutrition. Physically fit, well-rested people are less likely to suffer bouts of anxiety.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially life threatening disorder in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the body. Senior adults, smokers, obese or pregnant persons and people with varicose veins or a history of blood clots are most at risk. The following exercises can help relieve fatigue, stress and tension and will increase your blood circulation minimizing your health risks.
- Once the seatbelt restriction is lifted, get up every hour and walk the aisle of the plane to stretch your legs.
- Perform in-seat exercises such as slow ankle rolls, gentle head and shoulder rolls, or foot pumps where you lift your heels high while keeping your toes on the floor and then reverse leaving heels on the floor and lifting your toes.
- Stretch your arms straight out in front of you, then lift them overhead and reach up into the air for an additional stretch.
- Lifting one knee at a time and pulling it towards your chest for 15 seconds is another excellent stretch you can do while seated.
- In addition, you can do a forward flex by keeping your feet flat on the floor, bending forward from the waist and reaching your hands towards your ankles.
Food and water borne illness:
Experiencing new cuisines and local fare is a big part of traveling. Use caution when you arrive at your destination. Not all water and ice is safe to drink so stick with bottled water and other bottled beverages and bypass the ice.
- Roadside stands and food kiosks may look temping but be cautious. Raw foods, unrefrigerated foods, undercooked foods, unpeeled fruit, or unpasteurized dairy can all cause gastrointestinal problems. Better to eat in restaurants that have a reputation for safe cooking.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before every meal or snack. Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on your hands but may not entirely eliminate them. Soap, water and 20 seconds of rubbing is the best way to clean your hands.
- Take probiotics to keep your healthy intestinal flora flourishing and boost your immune system to defend against harmful bacteria.
- Digestive aids can help your body cope with new or unusual foods and can maintain stomach and intestinal comfort by supporting the digestive process.
Don’t forget to bring a hat, sunglasses and comfortable shoes. A little planning ahead on your part can ensure your health and comfort. Here’s hoping you have a safe, healthy and memorable summer!
Supplemental aids for travelers:
Ortho Biotic by Ortho Molecular – To maintain and encourage the growth of good bacteria in your intestinal tract. Stress, alcohol, pollutants and foods can all increase harmful bacteria and set the stage for digestive issues and illness. Taking a probiotic before, during and after air travel can help boost your immune system and reduce your chances of digestive imbalances from foreign microbes. This is a great probotic for travel as refrigeration is not necessary.
Digest Gold by Enzymedica – Formulated to assist with digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber. Changes in your diet while traveling can upset your digestive system. This product is designed to assist the body in the maximum digestion of nutrients, support energy production and provide immune support.
End Fatigue Daily Energy B Complex by Integrative Therapeutics – Ultimate strength B vitamin formula for all day energy. End Fatigue Daily Energy B Complex features high levels of B12 and other B vitamins for healthy blood, brain and nerve cell function all essential for sustained energy. This product helps maintain mental alertness when you are experiencing fatigue.
Buffered Ascorbic Acid by Pure Encapsulations – Buffered ascorbic acid combines calcium ascorbate, magnesium ascorbate, and potassium ascorbate to create a neutral pH vitamin C. Vitamin C supports the body’s defense system by enhancing white blood cell function and activity and increasing antibody response. Vitamin C is a superior antioxidant that helps fight viral and bacterial infections while enhancing immunity.
Rhodiola (SF755) by Thorne Research – Rhodiola is an important stress-relieving botanical. In addition to aiding sleep, Rhodiola can enhance mood and decrease occasional episodes of worry and nervousness, allowing for more efficient functioning under stressful conditions.