I recently returned from a trip to Chicago. I was at the National Council’s Conference on Addiction and Behavioral Health. I had a great time and met lots of great people (including our own Randye Kaye, author of Mental Illness in the Family here at HealthyPlace).
But the conference was in Chicago, and while a great city, it did mean a day’s worth of travel and two time zone changes to get there. And travel has been known to really take it out of me.
But I have learned tips for navigating travel with less disruption to my bipolar disorder.
Tips for Changing Time Zones
I’m a big believer in the importance of sleep. I consider sleep to be the most stabilizing/destabilizing factor in a bipolar’s life (save, perhaps, alcohol and drug use). And the trouble with travel is that it messes with your sleep when you move across time zones. Heck, even if you’re not moving across time zones it might mess with your sleep simply due to the all-day circadian weirdness of getting off and on planes and the exhaustion of negotiating airports.
And there are three things you can do about this:
- Stay on home time – don’t go by what the clock says where you travel to, go by the clock at home. This can work if your schedule is flexible, you have blackout drapes and you’re not crossing too many time zones.
- Get on the new time zone gradually, over time, before you leave. What I like to do is adjust my sleeping and waking time by a few minutes every day while I’m at home until I’m close to the new time zone’s time. Again, you need a flexible schedule to make this work but it’s worth it if you want to hit the ground running once to you get where you’re going.
- Melatonin – melatonin is a chemical that your body naturally produces at night to help you sleep and it’s one of the reasons you can’t sleep in the middle of the day (generally). Melatonin is also available as a supplement. You can pick some up and use them in your destination time zone to help encourage sleep at the right time. (Check with your doctor before messing with your melatonin and remember that melatonin is for short-term use only.)
Tips for Negotiating Travel
Travel is seriously stressful and stress absolutely makes mental illness worse, so when you travel you need to let go and let god (the travel god, that is) and know that whatever will be, will be. Sometimes the travel god gets you to your destination on time with your bags and sometimes it makes you miss your flight and your bags end up in another country. You just have to accept this possibility because there isn’t a thing you can do about it.
- Really. Just let go. Remember that it’ll be alright and you’ll handle whatever happens – it’s not the end of the world. Stress is your enemy so beat it by knowing there is nothing to be stressed about.
- Always pack your meds in your carryon. If your baggage goes missing you don’t want your medication missing too.
- To be safe, carry your medication in it labelled bottles in case security gets nosy.
- If you’re stressed about flying as your doctor about a tranquilizer – this may or may not be right for you. (And if you are really concerned about your mental health during travel tell the flight attendants and carry your doctor’s/therapist’s number with you.)
- Allow for extra time whenever possible. It’s much better to spend an extra hour at an airport bar than it is to have to wait umpteen hours because you missed your flight. Allow extra time for connections too – you’ll thank me when the originating flight is late.
- Try to travel earlier in the day – it’ll give you more options if you have to be re-routed for some reason and there is less of a chance of a delay.
- Try not to plan any events on your travel days except travel – that will be event enough.
Enjoy Your Trip!
And remember, you’re there to enjoy yourself so remember, tomorrow you’re going to be on the beach sipping coconut drinks and the travel will just be a cocktail party anecdote.