How to Manage Mental Health and Stress Responses

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Need mental health help? In episode #6 of NAVIGATE, the travel podcastwe offer mental wellbeing support for during the COVID pandemic and beyond…

Feeling overwhelmed by situations that don’t normally phase you? Has the coronavirus pandemic left you feeling anxious, isolated, or exhausted?

In part two of her conversation with NAVIGATE, integrative psychotherapist and advanced craniosacral therapist Charlotte Copeland shares her expert tips on how to support mental health, from daily life stress to the new pressures and concerns as business travel resumes during the pandemic.

The term “fight or flight” is commonplace, but here Charlotte explains how prolonged periods of stress – like ongoing COVID fatigue – can change the brain to become threat-focussed, triggering threat responses to everyday stress such as withdrawal, aggression or irritability.

In this travel podcast we discuss how to shift your mindset to stressors, along with simple strategies and valuable tools that can help lower the stress response and give your system a break.

In charge of a travelling workforce? Charlotte also offers advice on how organisations can empower themselves to lead the charge in mental health support, particularly for upcoming business travel.

What we cover: 

  • Common stressors of business travel and life during the pandemic
  • Impacts of COVID on travel
  • Mental health support for the travelling workforce as international business travel resumes
  • Stress management techniques
  • Tips to overcome COVID fatigue
  • When to seek mental health support – and how

Managing your wellbeing and stress responses | Psychotherapist Charlotte Copeland – Part 2

Voice Over

0:00:00 – 0:00:19

Welcome to Navigate. The podcast that helps you safely and securely traverse the globe. Alongside travel industry experts and global travellers, we’ll gather insights and advice that help you manage any pitfalls or problems that may occur while you’re away from home. Our voyage of discovery starts now.
Ben Cooper

0:00:20 – 0:00:45

Welcome everybody to today’s Navigate podcast. My name is Ben Cooper. I’m the head of business development for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region for world travel protection. Today, joining us, we have Charlotte Copeland. Charlotte is a psychologist and a psychotherapist. She’s a leading expert in crisis, disaster and trauma responsive care and a leading mental health expert here in the UK.

She’s also the managing director of the Safe Haven trauma clinic. Welcome, Charlotte.

Charlotte

0:00:45 – 0:00:50

Thank you. It’s nice, it’s nice to be here. Thank you for the invite. Ben.
Ben Cooper

0:00:50 – 0:01:28

2020 has been a very different year for lots of reasons. It’s certainly been different when we come to how much everybody is travelling. If you and I were having a conversation 12 months ago about business travel, just give our audience a bit of a feel of why you would have been telling me, you know, what business travel can be tough, let’s just turn the clock back 12 months and think, What would our conversation have been if this pandemic had never come along? And then maybe we’ll think about the return to travel, but just give our audience a feel for 12 months ago, if I’d have been saying ‘Charlotte, why is business travel tough sometimes’ what would you have said?
Charlotte

0:01:29 – 0:04:02

I would have said that it’s to do with being in persistent motion, where people have, also working between different time zones, so their daily routines of things that keep them well get turned upside down and often I know, working with business travellers, they might have a routine that works really well for them when they’re at home.

In my experience, they’re often not great at saying I’ll ensure I have an adapted routine that I drop into, the moment I land when I’m travelling. That’s one of the things we’ll often work with, people to do, to say, look, let’s work out depending on where you’re going, what you’re doing and et cetera is what you have access to, is what would that new routine look like?

They’ll have increased workload, they’ve often got a lot of pressure. And certainly if they’re doing consistent travel, trying to fit that workload in. They’re working on planes, in airports, they’ve got very little access to – depending on where they are travelling the world – often to family and friends as they would do normally, so they can feel often quite isolated and quite alone. The constantly changing diet particularly, depending on where in the world they’re travelling can put quite a toll on their system, lack of exercise. So I know, I do know some people who manage to always make sure where they go, they get some exercise, but they are like that they are the exception rather than the rule, I would say.

All of this impacts against sleep, so there is tremendous fatigue that kicks in. They really struggle to manage boundaries between what is work time and my off time, you know, downtime that tends to go out the window and so it takes quite a toll on people mentally, emotionally and physically.

And then you have potentially the fact that they could, you know, certainly where we tend to work they’re people they’re often exposed to, been exposed to things that may be a quite unexpected, shocking, traumatic. You know, whether that’s assault whilst they’re away, witnessing somebody being severely injured or involved in, you know some kind of major incident and they’ve got that to deal with on top of everything else.

So as much as everyone always thinks that I think business travel can be tremendous fun. My experience is that actually, for people that do it just as an integral part of their work, it takes a tremendous toll on them, in reality.

Ben Cooper

0:04:03 – 0:05:32

Yeah, I think, I think I would definitely agree with that. Would you say it’s fair to say that some industries or sectors are much further along when they consider mental health and wellness in international travel than others? So, for example, would we be fair in saying the oil and gas industry has long understood the fact that a four week rotation on an oil rig in the middle of the sea takes its toll? People away from home, away from problems they can’t fix and it’s stressful.

Maybe they’ve been thinking about mental health a whole lot longer than some other sectors who still see business travel as just a glamorous thing that they’re very lucky to be able to do. And that’s not necessarily how the business travellers themselves are feeling.

Is this pandemic – the scale of it – going to be a bit of a leveller for everyone as we return to hopefully, as we return to business travel in 2021? Are we all gonna have to sort of start from scratch in some ways, thinking well we’re asking people now, we are asking our people to return to international travel, to crossing international borders and maybe that’s just a doddle for some people, but maybe that’s full of anxieties for some and returning to international travel is difficult in a whole bunch of new ways.

Some of the stuff is still the same. Uh people might still get run over. They might find themselves in a bad hospital. They might have their heart attack in entirely the wrong place at the wrong time. All of that stuff, of course, is still there. But there’s this whole new bunch of problems to deal with. Do you think that’s fair?

Charlotte

0:05:32 – 0:09:21

Absolutely. I mean, we’re definitely seeing a lot of that. I’m seeing a lot of people who are, who love to travel who are now very reticent, about that, people who were very blase before, who even now are really considering what does this mean to go back to their international travel routines?

I think it’s both the exposure to Covid. I think its concern over health and safety standards and what facilities will there be in terms of, you know, sanitising, that kind of thing. Um, I think you know the concern about what happens if I become really unwell in a foreign country depending on what the healthcare is there. Will I be able to get home? What if I bring the virus back? Delays that they may have because of that?

Certainly things like the impact of quarantine rules is, we are seeing have a major impact already actually on how people are looking at travel, and I think whilst there is this hope of the vaccine, you know, we have to be realistic about the times that that will take for that to be rolled out and.

And you know within that when you were saying before about the impact across all sectors rather than it just being some. I think what we have to remember is what you’re talking about there, so oil and gas is a great example, where there are some sectors that because of the demands of the profession, that people’s psychological well-being is an inherent part of ensuring that health and safety standards are met and when the conditions are known to potentially, significantly impact somebody’s psychological well-being and they can impact them in quite extreme circumstances that would have very serious consequences. Mental health guidelines have to be put on the map and so they become almost mandatory within those within organisations, within those sectors.

The difference has been and this is true in the UK, for instance and most, most of the world when it comes to the mental health guidelines, they are guidelines. It’s not like health and safety, so with physical health and safety where it is mandatory. So the difference now is I would say that it has raised awareness on the how essential attending to our psychological well-being is in order to ensure everybody can do the job that they are employed to do and function in a healthy in, a healthy manner and so it’s raised the importance of the subject because the pandemic in and of itself is creating so much additional strain on our psychological well-being. And I think that is why you’re quite correct. Well, so you see an increased, um, level of responsiveness to psychological health I suspect going forward because of this situation.

Now Ben, whether it will be the same five years from now. Well, who knows?

What I would certainly say, I know when I’m reading all of the different articles etc. coming out, I was reading some in the British Medical Journal, British Psychological Society, you know, you’re looking at certainly over the next 18 months, two years, this prolonged impact on psychological well-being because of the pandemic and so I certainly think it’s something that will be on the map for the next couple of years and the next 5 to 10 years. I guess only time will tell.

Ben Cooper

0:09:22 – 0:09:45

If somebody is listening to this and they think they are kind of how did you phrase it? You said the brain is becoming threat focused and that’s the bit you need to spot, and I guess that’s the bit where you’re in fight or flight zone all the time and your reactions to people or things or stressors start to be different to what they might have been 12 months ago. If someone’s thinking that or spotting that, just quickly, what would you say are the first things to do?
Charlotte

0:09:46 – 0:16:41

So, first of all, is you have to understand what are the stress ores in my life that I’m exposed to, like what’s happening to me in my life here that is stressful and how are they impacting me? So which do I see as like “oh a challenge? Bring it on!” and which do I start to, really they start to send me into a complete like stress head or real, real reacting place in myself, because you’ll know you’ll feel you’ll either want to withdraw or you’ll start to feel yourself a bit more aggressive and react if like the moment that either of that is happening, that’s the threat response as opposed to it feeling like “Bring it on, Come on” and that’s the challenge response.

Okay, so that’s what you have to watch in yourself. Those are two things. What are the things that affect me and which do I see a stressful and which do I see is a challenge? And then what you have to do is say right, Can I change my perception, which is what you’re talking about there? Can I look at some of the things I’m reacting to as if they’re a threat and see them in more of a you know, bring it on let’s see this as a challenge way.

So that’s always a question. The other is also are there some stressors that I can remove from my life? You know, sometimes we can. Sometimes we can just make a choice. And we could I could just, like, not have that in my life. You know, that is an option. So it’s always a question.

But the next things we need to do is we need to say as well as addressing them, so that sounds very simple. But the reality is, if you’ve been struggling and you know we’re 9, 10 months in now to this situation, if you’ve been dealing with sort of quite a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time now, you might find starting with that really quite difficult because you’ll feel fatigued. You’ll feel weighed down with everything. You’ll often perhaps feel things will feel like quite overwhelmed. So having the head space and the emotional space and the physical energy to sort of do that, can seem a big ask.

So there is another thing that is worth doing, and often this can be the first thing to start with, because it’s easier, which is “How do I do things? How do I add things into my life that give my system a break, right? They give my nervous system a bit of a break. They help me have a little bit of down time in my life”

Now, one of the big things here is time around and talking to people who just you feel at peace with, at peace around. They really you know, they’re really helpful to be around, even if that is on Zoom or the telephone, is an interesting thing.

I recently, recently changed from my Fitbit to a Garmin watch. One of the reasons was that – apart from all the hiking, coz one of my strategies is hiking. I like to get out on the hills – is I really like the fact it looked at heart rate variability and stress response and I found it really interesting to note that whenever I do – actually not clinic sessions, interestingly enough – but when I do zoom calls and meetings, my stress reaction is always relatively high. It’s always quite reasonable. When, I was speaking with family, when I speak to, like my sister or kind of my parents is, it was really interesting that my stress response goes into the blue zone so it drops into, into the low.

And I would say that and it gave me some science to back up the science. I don’t know what I would call me, human being me, that lived, experienced science to back up that the papers I also read and you think yes, absolutely. Time with those key people in our lives really can lower the stress response and give your system a little bit of a break and in doing that, what happens is you start to, over a 24 hour period, just start to lower the average kind of stress level your system is at and that will give you a bit more headspace.

You might start to sleep a little bit better. You might find that you can, I don’t know, go from having the two glasses of wine a night to one glass of wine a night, and ultimately one glass of wine every other night. So you’ll start to see you can make small steps and changes in the right direction that will all start to boost your mood. Help you feel more in control of your own life, yourself. Help you feel better about yourself again. These will lower the stress level.

So starting with key people in your life and also starting with basic activities. So just simple things like, can I get myself, as I’ve said, like 30 minutes of sunlight, ideally before 10:30am, in the day? Like can I find a way to give myself that, that time?

Will, if you read, you know, will I find like, I read an awful lot, but I read pretty much all technical books, but I have to make sure that within that, I mean I’m not an awful person, but I will have some what I would call lightweight technical books that are just fun to read and I’ll make sure I have time reading that because that acts again as a real boost. It puts me in the you stress window and a positive stress window, and it also lowers stress levels.

So you need to find simple activities that you can do that will really start to make a difference and give your system, and you mentally, emotionally and physically, that boost that starts to make overall, each 24 hour period gradually more manageable.

Ben Cooper

0:15:42 – 0:16:02

So, Charlotte, where should people go? We talked about the trigger points. We’ve talked about the things to observe. We’ve talked about people being very vigilant.

What’s the first port of call for someone who thinks that you know what, they really are struggling? They do need help. They do need support through this. Life is just getting too hard. Where should people go?

Charlotte

0:16:03 – 0:18:57

Well, there are a number of places that people can reach out to. What I will also say is that you know, when should, when should a person say, look now’s the time to maybe consider reaching out. So let’s start with that.

If people, look if you’re just finding in yourself like I’m just struggling, whether it’s to manage my thinking, like my thinking just seems I can’t seem to stop. I seem to be over thinking all the time. What I’m feeling about was becoming very obsessive. If you notice your emotions start to feel very overwhelming and you’re very reactive and can’t seem to change that, like those are signs that listen, that’s maybe putting some of the simple strategies in that we talked about is insufficient and not making a difference with those things, reach out for some extra help. If someone considers, they don’t have anyone to reach out to, who is that trusted and valued person who they can share their thoughts with and how they feel, then absolutely. That’s the point where you would reach out for some extra support to have someone to talk to.

If you find that you’re proactively doing the things we’ve talked about, like look, I’m identifying my stresses. I’m working on changing how I perceive them and making sure I’m doing some activities and looking at how I behave and I’m doing all of that and there’s nothing’s making a difference. Again that’s the point where Okay, reach out for some extra help and then if you have any feelings of despair and, you worry that actually, you might harm yourself or someone else. Don’t stay, and never stay dealing with that alone. Reach out on Get some help.

Now the where you would go. Obviously, there always is the GP. If you are employed with an organisation who has an employee assistance provider, then that EAP will be providing a certain amount of freely available counselling services and that will be fully confidential. So definitely check out with your organisation the contact details.

Obviously there are other NHS and private services that people can reach out to. And then there are free services. So you know, whether it’s the Samaritans or MIND, or there’s a whole host of different specialist free services you can reach out to if you need to talk to somebody, definitely check them out and use them.

I did a year with the Samaritans myself on the phones on and I can definitely, you know, say, reach out. It could make a real difference.

Ben Cooper

0:18:59 – 0:19:13

Wise words. Charlotte. It’s been great speaking to you. Thanks very much for joining us. Maybe you’ll come back next year and we’ll have a sort of retrospective look at that crystal ball and see, see what, see what happened. But for now, thanks very much for joining us and we’ll speak to you again.
Charlotte

0:19:13 – 0:19:15

You’re very welcome. Thank you, Ben.
Voice Over

0:19:15 – 0:19:47

Thank you for listening to this episode of Navigate. The World Travel Protection podcast that steers you in the right direction, helping you explore the world safely.

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Until next time. Keep travelling and stay safe.

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