Welcome to “Dear Here,” an advice column from Here Magazine where we tap into the hearts and minds of travelers, working with the experts to find solutions to travel issues you can’t always solve with a search engine.
We’re not even in the throws of the holiday season yet and already I’ve traveled for three weddings, two work trips, and going on my third personal trip since Labor Day. I’m nervous about getting sick, managing my workload at the office, and maintaining some semblance of a social life. It feels difficult to get a handle on both my professional and personal to-do lists, and often like I’m just dashing from one thing to the next without being able to process anything. I’m feeling a little disconnected from my life, but I don’t necessarily want to pull back on all of the travel that I enjoy so much. How can I manage the holiday season without totally burning out by New Years’ Eve?
The Constant Traveler
Dear Constant Traveler,
We can totally relate! Health and travel are two things that we really prioritize, but it often feels like they’re in competition. During the last few months of the year, the heightened pressures of social engagements, spending time with family, and more-frustrating-than-usual airport experiences add even more stress—and potential to get sick—to the table. The general lack of control over where and how your time is being spent is enough to cause even the calmest of travelers to reconsider a trip or two. And there’s nothing worse than dreading a trip you’ve had planned for months because you’re overcommitted or unwell.
We tapped Dr. Erica Matluck, a naturopathic doctor and nurse practitioner who helps patients with stress management and immune system support, to share some of her top advice on the subject.
It’s about asking ‘What are the pieces of this situation that I can control?’
“How do we stay grounded when we’re flying through the air at a million miles per hour and waking up in different parts of the country all the time?” says Matluck. “It’s about asking ‘What are the pieces of this situation that I can control?’ And doing the best with them. ‘And the pieces that I can’t, how can I accept them, make peace with them, and engage in practices that exercise my parasympathetic nervous system [the division of the nervous system that conserves energy]?’”
For Matluck, focusing on the big picture helps her to relax about details like what time zone it is back home, or where the nearest Wi-Fi connection is. Read on for more tips on how to stay sane, grounded, and healthy this holiday season.
Stick to the foundations of health.
Dr. Matluck’s first word of advice is to always stick to what she calls, “the foundations of health.” This means:
- Eating real food (or the diet that you know works best for you).
- Managing your stress.
- Exercising or getting some kind of movement.
- Making time in your schedule to do things that bring you joy.
Often, we get sick when we’re traveling because we start sacrificing one or more of these things. But, it’s not necessarily about staying on top of all five of these pillars—it’s more about prioritizing a couple of them and then setting boundaries. “As someone who travels a lot, you start to know your body and know your limits,” says Matluck. “It’s about finding your balance, like, what can I get away with?” In other words, there’s usually one or two of the things on Matluck’s list that makes more of a difference for each individual, and it’s about knowing which one yields the best result for you.
“I work with a ton of people who have digestive issues, and a lot of the work we need to do in their daily life is figure out what kind of diet they need to feel best,” says Matluck. “But, for example, when people go to Italy and want to eat pasta and gelato, we can ground them into a good stress management practice—because stress and anxiety can often be an aggregator of that issue—so they buy themselves a little bit of room to deviate from the diet.”
What are the things you need to be strict with, and where is there wiggle room? If you’re going to a wedding where there will be lots of food and alcohol, can you set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier so you can sit for a 20-minute meditation or go for a 20-minute jog? In the end, it’s much better to look at the sum of all of your efforts, rather than trying to remain stringent across all five pillars—that way, you’re not setting yourself up for failure and adding more to keep track of on an already full plate.
Stay present to manage stress.
Managing your mental health is just as important as—and definitely impacts—your physical wellbeing. “You get to that point where everything is moving so fast and it’s overwhelming…” says Matluck. “You have to simply accept that you’re going to do the best you can to keep up. And if something slips through the cracks, nobody is going to die—keep perspective. The only thing you can do is show up, be present, and meet the demands in front of you.” Take it one day at a time. Sure, when you look at all of your social plans and work obligations through the end of December, it’s easy to start hyperventilating, but instead, pick three things you’re going to accomplish today, and do them. Then do it again tomorrow.
You have to simply accept that you’re going to do the best you can to keep up.
Take steps to avoid getting sick with key products.
“My number one thing that I recommend is doing a neti pot before and after air travel,” says Matluck. On airplanes, our sinuses—which are usually moist membranes—become very dried out and sticky. We’re breathing recycled air, and viruses, bacteria, and allergens are more likely to stick to the membranes and the sinuses. A neti pot before the plane hydrates all those membranes, and if you neti pot when you get off the plane, you flush out anything that might be sticking there. Here’s a checklist of what Matluck recommends you stow in your carry-on:
- NeilMed Sinus Rinse, which is easy to pack and is sold at most major pharmacies.
- Vitamin-B complex: helpful for adrenals, stress, energy production, and for fueling the chemical reactions in the brain that create the uppers and downers and the feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine.
- ACES and Zinc: a blend of vitamin A, C, E, Selenium and Zinc, which works as a preventative when traveling. (If you do get sick, Matluck recommends taking two capsules every 4 to 6 hours.)
- Melatonin. Sleeping well will boost your immune system (and also help with jet lag). Take 3 milligrams of Melatonin at the time that you want to go to sleep, which should be nighttime hours in your destination.
Manage jet lag.
Hydration is key. On the plane, drink one glass of water for every hour in the air. Another practice Matluck suggests for post-flight jet lag or relaxation is a technique called “progressive muscle relaxation” to combat the musculoskeletal tension we develop in flight.
“Everybody talks about the mind-body connection, and how your thoughts impact your body. But there’s also a body-mind connection—that communication channel goes both ways,” says Matluck.
That means that if you tend to tense up your shoulders when feeling anxious, or if you’re in a really poor ergonomic setting (such as an airplane), your body will send a signal to your brain indicating that you’re not in a safe position, you’re in a fight or flight position, which can trigger anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that brings attention to muscle groups throughout your body, starting with your feet then moving to your legs, to your arms, your hands your shoulders, the muscles of your neck, your face. One by one with each muscle group, you tense up the muscles on an inhale breath, and then on an exhale breath you relax that muscle group completely. By “actively” relaxing those muscles, you’re telling your brain that you’re relaxed and safe—conditions you need to fall asleep.
Practice self-awareness to figure out what self-care means for you.
Practice self-awareness to figure out what self-care means for you. Something that’s “challenging enough for all of us, at any time of year,” says Matluck. For Matluck, after four days without exercise she’s not in a good place, so when she’s planning her week she makes sure that every three days there’s time to workout. “When it comes to these big holiday rushes—before all of these invitations come in—think about how many invites you can say yes to in a week, and then set that boundary for yourself,” says Matluck. “Once you’ve hit your quota, everything else becomes a non-negotiable ‘no.’” Reserve the other nights for yoga class, making dinner, taking a bath, or watching TV—whatever refuels you.
Happy holidays, travelers! We hope you found this helpful. To submit your own questions to “Dear Here,” shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “DEAR HERE.”