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Frequent Travel

Jumping on the odd flight every now and then is always exciting, especially if you do tend to take a vacation only once or twice during the year. However, traveling frequently can turn into an emotional roller coaster if you don’t have the right kind of tools and strategies in place.

Most frequent flyers would agree that they eventually feel a point where they’re either too tired or bored. It’s pertinent to understand that not all factors are under our control. When we take off on that flight to a place far far away, our body goes through a lot. Sleep cycles go awry, you feel hungry at awkward times and wait impatiently for your flight to reach your destination.

Emotional Disturbance

A recent article by the Washington Post sheds some light on all the emotional turbulence that we go through while we fly far and wide.

Passengers might feel a lack of control over their environment or a sense of anxiety that something bad could happen on the plane. That prompts the brain to produce a stress hormone, which can result in an increased heart rate and faster breathing.

“We could be on that plane watching that movie — it could be funny, it could be a little sad — and suddenly we find ourselves crying uncontrollably or gasping,” De Luca says. “Part of that is because we are limited with regard to the regulation of our emotions in an already-compromised environment.” – Jodi De Luca, a clinical psychologist in Colorado

This is a great observation. In additional to the chemical changes that the body undergoes once we’re at 30,000 feet, we also feel the anxiety of being in an enclosed space in the middle of nowhere, with no control over our own movement. If the plane hits some turbulence, this experience further exacerbates our notion of insecurity.

Food is Tasteless

If you’re anxious, it’s okay. Your body is just reacting to the surroundings.

You board the plane. You’re hungry and looking forward to having a nice meal so that you can have a nice sleep (or at least try to fall sleep). You eat the food, but there’s no sense of fulfillment or contentment. Wonder why? This disappointment only spoils your mood further.

Dry cabin air makes it harder for aromas to travel and dries out the nose, making it harder to smell that plate of chicken or pasta. In an article for the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, he wrote that low air pressure and high levels of background noise in cabins also play a role in passengers’ ability to smell and taste. -Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University

Pain in the ….ear

This is another common complaint by people when they fly. Research suggests that it’s well justified that some customers feel this way while in flight.

The change in cabin pressure can also cause gas in the body to expand, which leads to that familiar pain and feeling of blockage in the ears — as well as reduced hearing. Didi Aaftink, an occupational health physician who worked for the Dutch airline KLM for more than 12 years, says she frequently fielded questions about ear pain and airplanes.

Airlines’ Response

It’s in the interest of the airlines to make your flying experience smoother. It brings them more business and builds loyalty. Airlines are well aware of all the physical and emotional turbulence that you may go through. There’s some interesting bit of research always going on in this field. However, I feel that we’re still far away from any real panacea to this long standing problem.

Armed with this research, airlines have explored ways to optimize offerings for passengers’ altered states. Spence, author of “Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating,” worked with a chef on “rethinking airline food” for Monarch Airlines in 2017.

Spence hopes for more in-flight breakthroughs in drinking and dining; he says the way food is served and described — and even what passengers listen to as they eat — can also enhance its quality.

The Pundit’s Mantra

So the next time you burst into tears while watching an inflight movie, remember that it’s not just the movie, but also the surroundings and the altitude. As I stated earlier, your emotional responses to situations are only further amplified in the inflight environment.

FWIW, I can share a few tips and tricks that work well for me. I travel at least once if not more per year between the US and Asia/India. These include flights that are at least 14 hours or more each way, as I tend to fly via Singapore or Hong Kong. I rarely experience jet lag and I’m usually fresh when I reach my destination.

Here’s what works well for me:

1. Drink a lot of water during the duration of the journey. This usually includes frequent sips every now and then, but consistently when I’m awake.

2. Avoid alcohol, soda, caffeine or any other beverage that tends to leave me dehydrated

3. Avoid food that’s difficult to digest (i.e. bread, meat). I largely stick to liquids, fruits and other natural foods that are easy for the body to process

4. Sleep whenever I can fall asleep. When I’m awake, I usually play chess on the IFE screen to keep my mind occupied or listen to music

Do you feel extreme reactions both physically or emotionally while flying? How do you strategize to cope with these effects and avoid jet lag? Let us know in the comments section.

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