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How to avoid feeling burned out when traveling for work

Being on the road an be grueling. Here’s how to protect your mental well-being.

How to avoid feeling burned out when traveling for work
[Photo: Hazal Ak/iStock]

If you travel for business, inconveniences like flight delays and lost luggage aren’t your only concerns. A new report by NexTravel found that nearly one in four (22%) business travelers feel that their road time wears on their mental health.

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“Business travel can be indeed grueling as it takes you away from your regular routine. As a result, people have limited access to supports that keep them healthy and emotionally stable,” says psychologist Charmian Jackman.

That’s no small task, given how frenetic and exhausting business travel can be. But, there are some best practices that mental health professionals recommend to decrease the stress that business travel can cause and protect your mental well-being on the road.

Practice good habits

The good habits that you practice at home for mental and physical health work on the road, too, says Leigh Steere, cofounder, Managing People Better, LLC, a management training and research firm. Keep moving when you can, even if it’s just taking a walk or doing some stretches in your room. Though it can be challenging when traveling, do your best to limit your intake of alcohol, fried foods, and sugar-laden desserts. “Just because you have a per-diem food allowance doesn’t mean you need to spend it all,” she says.

To the extent possible, stick to your regular sleep schedule, keeping bedtimes and wake-up times as consistent as possible. “This can be difficult when traveling across time zones, but feeling rested makes a difference in mood and outlook,” she says. In the NexTravel study, nearly half (47%) of business travelers said they don’t get enough sleep when they travel for work.

Stay in contact with loved ones

Homesickness and missing time with family and friends can also contribute to burnout. The study also found that roughly one in four people have trouble connecting with family and friends on the road (25%) and miss out on important life events (23%).

It’s important to stay connected with family and friends while traveling, says Amanda Stemen, creator and owner of counseling practice FundamentalGrowth. “Whether that’s texting throughout the day, phone calls, or video chat, it’ll help you feel more connected and still a part of your at-home life,” she says.

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Avoid over-scheduling

The NexTravel study found that 29% of respondents felt like they had to always be available on the road. But, that kind of grueling, “always on” approach can make you less effective and more likely to burn out, says Steere.

Avoid the temptation to fill every moment of your downtime with work—checking email and voice mail, writing up meeting notes, etc. You need time away from work each day to recharge, doing something that you love. “Bring a hobby with you, or at least a good book. If the weather and location permit, visit a local attraction—such as a museum or park. Getting outside can boost mood,” Steere says.

If you’re more introverted and need time alone to recharge, build that into your schedule. If you’re a more extroverted personality who recharges by spending time with others, socialize with coworkers who are on the trip, Jackman suggests.

“For people with social anxiety or those who identify as introverts, navigating the social scene while away on business can be a nightmare,” Jackman says. Organizing a walking group or making dinner plans with a few people can work to help you feel connected but not socially overwhelmed.”

Engage in a little bleisure

Blending work and play can be another way to make business trips more enjoyable and recharge, so explore the area you’re visiting. “This can be difficult if you’re scheduled down to the minute, but if you have any free time, checking out a local café or park can bring a bit of adventure to your life, which is always good for our mental health,” Stemen says.

If you’re in a more distant locale and have the time, look into tacking on a day or two before or after your trip to see some of the sights.

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Fix the foundation

If you’re experiencing challenges at home, those can be exacerbated with frequent business travel, Steere says. Business travel isn’t a good way to escape issues at home and may cause more challenges if a spouse or family member feels left out or abandoned. “If your ‘house’ is not in order when you are home, it is unlikely to become more orderly when you are on the road. Broken relationships will still be broken,” she says.

Take the steps you need to fix challenges in your personal life. “Business travel shouldn’t be an escape from something. If a person is using it to escape, then it’s important to meet with a mental health professional to discuss the escapism and formulate a plan for improving things on the home front. This is key for long-term mental health,” she says.

Regular business travel can be taxing, but if you set up some habits and routines to make it less so, you ‘ll feel better and reduce the risks of getting burned out.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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