Neal Landsburgh hasn’t been still for 20 years.
The sales executive frequently packs his bags to meet with clients around the world. By now, he’s lost track of how many countries he’s visited. And even when he compares his airline miles with other frequent fliers, he usually wins.
But lately, he has little positive to say about seeing so many new places, so often. In fact, he blames two divorces, an almost “non-existent” relationship with his daughter and his troubles with alcohol, at least in part, on the fact that the majority of his life has been spent travelling.
“It looks glamorous,” Landsburgh said. “But it’s not.”
Even as technology offers us countless ways to connect with one another remotely, many employers still demand their workers travel to sit down with others face-to-face. In 2016, companies in the U.S. sent their employees on more than 500 million domestic flights, according to the The Global Business Travel Association.
All this time travelling, it turns out, can take a toll on an individual’s mental health, according to a new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“The individuals who are travelling the most have the poorest self-rated health, the worst depression symptoms, the worst anxiety symptoms,” said Andrew Rundle, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.
He added, “It’s this big clustering of health issues.”
Reuben Gonzalez, an engineer who travels for work around a quarter of the year, said it can be difficult and lonely frequently settling into a new place.
“I can never adjust to the time change,” Gonzalez said. “Going to restaurants and eating alone isn’t fun. There’s no dinner conversation.”
He regrets missing important events in his son’s life, such as his basketball tournaments.
“I missed a lot of the time of my kids growing up,” he said. “It’s kind of sad.”
These psychological findings flesh out existing research that’s primarily focused on the physical detriments of business travel, showing hours on planes and nights alone in hotels can accelerate aging and put a person at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes.
The mental wear-and-tear of travel is worthy of the same attention, Columbia’s Rundle said.
“Most business travel health plans are about immunizations, all of the literature is about infection or food borne,” Rundle said. “But there’s very little literature on these chronic health conditions that result from a lot of travel.”
He says employees should ask themselves if they really need to be on the go so often.
“Companies need to provide their road warriors with the tools they need to travel healthy,” Rundle added. “There are stress management techniques, like mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy.”
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