The inability to travel on vacation because of the pandemic has taken a toll on many people. They feel frustrated, lonely, helpless or depressed or have other mental concerns, an English anxiety expert says.
“The mental effects are vast,” says Lisa Skeffington, a consultant psychotherapist in Bournemouth, England.
Skeffington says the inability to travel can also lead to anxiety, aggression, agitation, fear, self-doubt, overthinking and re-awakening of trauma. But there are many strategies that can be used to overcome these mental concerns, she says.
“For our well-being, we need something to look forward to, and a summer holiday is a big part of that,” Skeffington says. “The promise of a booked vacation can make difficult times easier to bear, as our mind creates anticipated images and linked feelings that can ease stress and anxiety in moments of stress. In the current COVID crisis, such promise has been snatched. We really don’t know with full certainty when a vacation such as we would imagine can happen.”
Many people view a vacation as an opportunity to rest and unwind from work, Skeffington says, and others see it as an opportunity to re-connect and be close to their partner away from the daily stresses. When a vacation is not possible, men and women may react differently.
Skeffington, who specializes in anxiety consulting and has a website selling books and audio recordings that aim to help people overcome anxiety, says the “male brain tends toward the practical,” and it may be easier for men to accept a travel shutdown.
“Men might have more of a tendency to find an alternative solution and say, ‘We’ll just do this instead,’ ” Skeffington says. “Whereas women typically might dive more into the emotion of the situation and overthink the loss of opportunity for connection and invaluable family time away. They might ruminate on feelings that drive worst-case scenarios with future fearful thinking.”
The inability to travel can also weigh heavily on retirees who have waited much of their lives to be free to travel.
“It has created anxiety for some, because they feel time is precious, and putting plans on hold for a year fuels a fear that they might be wasting precious time,” Skeffington says. “This understandably leads to frustration — not being able to get the best out of the days they had planned mentally and emotionally for a long time.”
If friends or family members of similar ages die or become seriously ill during the pandemic, retirees’ sense of frustration “can tip over into anxiety,” Skeffington says.
Some retirees with family overseas may have planned to spend more time with their loved ones, but those plans may have been scuttled by lockdowns, travel restrictions or virus-related travel concerns.
“Intellectually, we know that the lockdown measures are necessary and the right thing to do,” Skeffington says. “But emotionally, for so many feeling the enforced distance when the clock is ticking, it can be heart-wrenching.”
Frequent business travelers may also be affected mentally by an inability to travel.
“Those who enjoy the buzz of business travel are feeling more restricted which can result in increased stress levels,” Skeffington says. “Normally, they enjoy the freedom to fly from country to country and state to state and the mental space and downtime a flight may offer. Business travel affords a free-spirited person an opportunity to mix with different cultures, to deepen interpersonal connections and occasionally take time to explore new surroundings.”
Traveling on business can also provide a break from the intensity of personal and family dysfunction in relationships, Skeffington says. “Many partners look forward to their other half going away for a few days on business or working away and flying home on weekends. With the ability to travel being snatched, the relationships of many couples and families forced to spend more time together are under strain.”
Many strategies can be used to avoid depression or feeling down about an inability to vacation and travel freely.
“Accepting and making peace with what we cannot change about the COVID situation gives us the opportunity to focus on what we can change,” Skeffington says. “When we seek out what we can do, it lifts a sense of powerlessness and helps us feel better about the circumstances.”
It’s vital, Skeffington says, to make a list of what you are grateful for in your life. “Give yourself a few minutes with each aspect every day to feel the emotional abundance and give thanks,” she says. “We have so much to be grateful for even through adversity. The goodness is there, even if it seems we have to dig a bit to find it. Gratitude can definitely provide the lift you seek on a down day.”
Skeffington advises people to act immediately when they feel a “downward-spiraling emotion” and take mental “action steps” to flip a negative emotion.
“When you recognize and identify the low mood, immediately change your position,” she advises. “If you are lying or sitting, stand and move. Do something — anything — that allows you to flip the emotion. Create a go-to playlist of favorite infectious, upbeat songs, or watch a stand-up comedian or a film that will get you smiling, laughing, singing and dancing.”
The most important thing, Skeffington says, is to take control whenever you can each day. “As you glean control in small ways, you begin to feel more accepting of what you cannot change, and you feel more empowered and lighter.”
Many people unable to travel during the pandemic have expressed loneliness.
“To combat loneliness, keep busy!” Skeffington exclaims. “Keep the mind entertained. Be spontaneous. A bored mind is a mind seeking stimulation and a perfect playground for neurosis, wallowing and anxiety. Prepare a list of go-to activities, so you can get busy right away. Taking action will help halt the rumination of spiraling thought.”
Skeffington suggests absorbing oneself in “an experience” such as reading, painting, drawing, playing an instrument, listening to classical music, engaging in a new hobby or cooking.
“Distraction in a pro-active way” can be helpful, she says. “Tidy up drawers and cupboards, or clean in places you tend to overlook.”
Reach out and make contact with others by writing a letter or an email, arranging video or phone calls or using social media “in a healthy way,” Skeffington says. “Find some positive and nurturing social groups to interact with.”
Finally, she suggests, “keep a journal of your thoughts to get them out of your head.”