by Muffy Walker, MSN, MBA
& Kim Knox
Muffy Walker, of the International Bipolar Foundation, writes a mental health column for KRL every other month.
As the crisp autumn days get colder and shorter, we are reminded that the holidays are not far behind. For many, the holidays include travel plans. Whether it’s travel for a vacation or to visit friends and relatives, we can rest assured that accompanying stress will be part of the package. Regardless of your experience with travel, it is a different thing entirely when you add on a layer of anxiety-laced bipolar disorder.
Like other stressors in our lives, preparation and having a good game plan can help turn an otherwise stressful holiday trip into a pleasant experience.
Preparation is key! Here are some helpful hints to help you navigate TSA check points, time zone differences, long flights with longer still lay-overs and language differences.
1. Talk to your doctor and your therapist well in advance of your trip. Share details about the destination, your trip goals, any known challenges and your concerns. If you’ll need additional medication or destination specific medication (high altitude, motion sickness, sleep aids, etc), now is the time to ask for a prescription. (PACK ALL MEDICATIONS IN YOUR CARRY-ON BAG, enough for the trip with a few extra, just in case).
2. Make all your travel arrangements as far in advance as possible. Not only will this allow you to address unforeseen issues that may come up, but will give you plenty of time to arrange all aspects of the trip (cab/bus/train to & from airport, currency exchange, passports & visas, etc).
3. If possible, travel with a friend or hire an escort. Knowing there is someone there to help you may be the ticket to stress reduction.
4. If you are going to be out of your “insured area” (country), inform your insurance company where you are going.
5. Consider purchasing trip insurance. There are also plans that can cover you in case of a medical emergency. Ask your doctor or insurance carrier for recommendations.
Once you’ve completed your pre-trip preparation, now it’s time to work on day to day stress reduction.
1. Stay in the moment. Enjoy the day.
2. Incorporate some relaxation exercises into your daily routine; controlled breathing, imagery, meditation, exercise…
3. If you aren’t already, get in the habit of tracking your moods. A helpful phone app is MOODWATCH, which lets you easily track your moods and biofeedback for a clear picture of how to improve your mental health and overall well being. Tracking one’s moods includes accessing sleep, blood pressure/pulse, biofeedback, medication use, mood components, energy level, and more.
4. Adopt a healthy diet into your routine; stay well hydrated, stay away from caffeine, sugar and alcohol (for a more complete description of nutrition, DSmith@InternationalBipolarFoundation[dot]org for our free book, Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder).
OK, your departure date is finally here.
1. Airports are crowded, especially during the holidays. Give yourself plenty of time.
2. Have some nutritious snacks packed in your carry on.
3. In the security lines, ask for assistance if you need it.
4. If you’re unsteady on your feet, ask for a wheelchair.
5. On the flight, drink plenty of water and get up at least once per hour to walk the aisle and exercise your calves.
6. Set your watch to the destination’s local time.
David J. Miklowitz, author of The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide writes on jet lag: “One way to combat this travel disruption is to gradually adjust your internal time clock to the new place you’re going, before you actually leave. So, over the course of a week before you travel to a later time zone, go to bed an hour earlier than usual, then an hour and a half, then 2 hours earlier and so forth. By the time you arrive, it may be easier to adjust to the hours of the new time zone. This procedure usually works best if you’ll be in the new time zone for more than a few days.”
Congratulations, you’ve arrived at your destination–enjoy yourself! Take in sights, but don’t forget to manage your bipolar disorder (remember Mood Watch will keep you on course–your meds will be correct, you’ll stay focused, centered and mindful, enjoying a little grounding meditation as part of your daily rituals… just like brushing your teeth, but a good deal more focused on keeping you able to enjoy yourself! )
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.