5 Tips for Mindful Travel

What is mindful travel?

Mindfulness is the awareness of what is going on in the present moment so mindful travel is about being aware of what is happening in your mind, body and around you when you are travelling.  Overseas travel can be very enriching but I know from experience that it can also be challenging and stressful at times when things go wrong or do not meet our expectations because we find ourselves outside our comfort zone in a different cultural and linguistic environment.

If you are somebody who experiences high levels of stress in your everyday life and wants to escape stress by taking a holiday overseas, since you are taking your mind with you, you will still feel stressed on holidays, possibly even more so because you are outside of your comfort zone and travel can be exhausting at times. Before I started practicing mindfulness I used to overreact to many situations and experience stress and anxiety in everyday life so that when I traveled overseas this was even more heightened.

I noticed on my recent South American trip that even though I still got triggered at times when feeling tired and irritable during my trip, I was able to deal with these reactions much more effectively and bring myself back to the present moment more rapidly. Through mindfulness practice, I am now also able to be so much present and engaged that my overseas travels are richer and more wonderful than ever.

When we travel, these days technology can also distract us and prevent us from fully experiencing the present moment.

How to Deal with Getting Back to Reality after an Overseas Trip?

Me in Copacabana, Bolivia

I don’t know about you but I have always find it difficult to come back from travelling, especially when coming back from overseas, and the longer the trip is, the hardest it is for me to get back into the `real world’.  As my very recent South America trip lasted seven weeks, I knew that coming back would be particularly challenging.

It is difficult to reintegrate into everyday life because even though when we travel we still have some responsibilities, they are not the habitual everyday responsibilities.  On holiday we tend to escape from our daily routine, though if we spend 2 or 3 weeks in the same place we may develop a routine, it will still be different from  do not have the time to get into a specific routine. Travelling is exciting because we discover new places, cultures, meet new people and get to try new things and we do not know what is around the corner.  Of course we can also meet new people and try new things when we are back home but it is different because we have more of a structure in our lives and a number of responsibilities we need to attend to whether it is work or family or both.

When we are on holidays we also tend to not think about work or our goals for the future but when we get back that is something that we return to which may bring old or new insecurities, self-doubts, challenges and indecision especially if we are at a turning point in our lives or are not satisfied with an aspect of our lives but are not sure how to change it.

So how can you deal with getting back to the real world after an overseas trip?

  1. Take it easy! Be kind to yourself, of course it is difficult if you are an employee and have to go back to work right away but you can still take it easy for the first few days, taking it one step at the time.  It is especially important to not give yourself a hard time because you feel too tired and/or jet lagged to do much for longer than you would like.
  2. Because your mind may keep going back to our holiday experiences and we may not feel entirely back for a little while, especially after a long trip and if you fear what is ahead, it is important to deliberately ground yourself in the present moment, from time to time, for example, connecting with your breath and watching the movement of your breath even for a minute, a few times throughout the day or feeling the ground under your feet and the movement of your feet when you walk, or really looking at what is around you right now and using your senses, touch, smell, hearing and sight to ground yourself in the here and now.
  3. However, it is also totally fine to at times look at your photos and relive some holiday moments in your mind while it is still fresh, it is part of the transition from holiday to your home environment.
  4. Do something you really like ie. go to your favorite restaurant or cafe, catch up with people you like spending time with, go on a walk in an area you like, go to your favorite market, buy your favorite foods, etc., getting yourself reacquainted at whatever pace works for you with what you actually enjoy doing in your familiar surroundings.
  5. If that works for you, try to meet new people and take up new activities so you are also doing different things in your familiar environment.
  6. When coming back from holidays, I find it also useful to reevaluate where I am at and where I want to go. Taking a break really can give you a new perspective on things and give you a new energy even if you feel exhausted after travelling like I am feeling!
Ollantaytambo, Peru

A few more photos below from my trip.

Easter Island
Patagonia, Chile
Patagonia, Argentina
Peruvian woman in the Sacred Valley showing the dying process of alpaca wool.

REFECTIONS ON MINDFUL TRAVEL FROM SOUTH AMERICA – PART 5: USING SELF-COMPASSION

(Posted on Facebook on 17/01/17)

Image may contain: horse, grass, outdoor and natureWhen you do a lot of travel it can become very tiring, as a result you may wish that you had organised the trip differently, or wish you had not gone on a particular tour or are frustrated because you wanted to see something but did not feel up to it physically. As I mentioned before, as we all feel frustrated and irritable at times when we travel, it is also easy to get triggered by a situation and react in ways that do not show ourselves in our best light. As we can all be hard on ourselves, it is easy in these situations to give yourself a hard time, for example telling yourself over and over again ‘, I should or shouldn’t have done that’ and judging yourself very harshly for it.

As it is important to practice acceptance of what is happening in the present moment even if we do not like it, it is also very important to practice self-compassion and be kind and gentle with ourselves. We all feel we make mistakes at times, all wish we had not behaved in a certain way or could have done things differently but if we hang on to these judgmental thoughts and the emotions they are charged with, we simply hurt ourselves and it is totally unecessary. Once we have done something, it is done, wishing it was different or berating ourselves for it is not going to make a difference. Through mindful awareness we learn to take responsibility for our actions and see what steps we could take to remedy a situation if possible or do things differently in the future without holding on to regrets and self-flagellation.

For instance, as I am embarking on my 7th week of the trip I am really feeling travel fatigue right now and as a result I find myself being more easily irritated and frustrated with situations that do not go as I would like and do not always like how I react to these situations. Also as a result of the fatigue I cannot do as much as earlier in the trip and thus cannot see everything I would like to see. For example, yesterday I went on a tour of the volcano Osorno from Puerto Varas (Chile) – photo below. I picked it because it was supposed to be a 4 hour tour so I did not think it would be too tiring, however, the tour started late, it took quite a while to get to the volcano, then we were supposed to all meet at the bus at 6.15 pm to get back but as some of the people went to do the zip-line they were not finished by then so we had to wait for them and only left at 7pm then only at about 6km from the town, we got stuck in a traffic jam for 2 hours! so that instead of coming back at 7 pm as planned, it was 10 pm! I felt exhauusted, starving and frustrated!

After yesterday, I have been feeling so tired today that I got up very late and really did not feel up to going to the national park as I had planned, which is supposed to be great. As I am already going on a full-day tour to Chiloe Island tomorrow and go back to Santiago the day after, I will not have time to go there. I did experience feelings of frustration and regret for not having taken another tour which also included the national park instead yesterday, feeling that I had made a mistake. I observed these judgments and feelings but let them go each time they came back throughout the day. I knew that I needed to listen to my body and needed to take it easy today and needed to accept that and be compassionate with myself. So I went for another walk in the town and by the lake, had a huge piece of chocolate cake and a massive pot of herbal tea in a cute cafe, went to supermarket and came back to the place where I am staying.

So how can you be compassionate when you feel frustrated with yourself and have harsh self-judgmental thoughts while travelling as well as in everyday life?

1. Observe the self-judgments going through your mind without getting caught up in them, for example saying to yourself, I notice that I am having the thought that ‘ I made such a mistake’ or that ‘ I shouldn’t have done that’, which enables you to distance yourself from these thoughts.
2. Similarly, observe the emotions behind the thoughts that you are experiencing, you can also say, ‘I notice that I am having a feeling of shame, frustration or whatever it is and let it go. For emotions, you can also bring awareness to where it is in your body ie. in the middle of your chest, in your abdomen etc. and bring an investigative curiosity to it, noticing the shape, size, colour, lightness of the emotion. This way it will transform and dissolve much quicker.
3. You can put your hand on your heart centre in the middle of your chest and close your eyes, feeling the sensation in your chest, I find this gesture very soothing and comforting. You can also accompany this gesture by saying words like, ‘I am being kind and gentle with myself or may I be kind and gentle with myself, it is ok.’
4. Treat yourself, do something that makes you happy and makes you feel nutured, whatever it is for you, it can be eating a piece of chocolate cake as long as there no guilt associated with it!, or taking a bath or going for a walk in an area you really like.

Often we are the harshest judge with ourselves and we really don’t need to be, so give it a try and see how improving your self-talk improves your relationship with yourself and the world around you.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
Image may contain: mountain, sky, ocean, cloud, outdoor and natureImage may contain: outdoor

REFLECTIONS ON MINDFUL TRAVEL FROM SOUTH AMERICA – PART FOUR: BEING PRESENT

(Posted on Facebook on 13/01/17)

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor, nature and waterWhen we travel overseas and see amazing sights, we want to take photos to remember this moment and remind ourselves that we were really there. These days with digital cameras, phones and tablets, it is of course very easy to take photos and a lot of them. We want to capture the moment so it can stay with us, however, a photo is only the representation of a moment.

There is nothing wrong with taking photos, I certainly have taken quite a few photos during this trip but these days with digital cameras, mobile phones and tablets, it is very easy to take photo after photo without being really fully present and connecting with what you are experiencing. Indeed taking a lot of photos can distract us from being fully engaged with the experience of the landscape or situation we are in.

I have seen quite a few people on this trip getting off a tour bus rushing to have their photos taken when they get to a spot then looking at the photos of themselves and the scenery before getting back on the bus rather than actually spending a few minutes really experiencing at that moment the very spot they were standing in. In this case, it is likely that if you look at the photos a few months later, it will not be very meaningful, you will remind yourself that you were there but you probably will not connect with the experience that you had when you were there because you were not fully present at the time. After all we have all looked at photos at times and forgotten where it was taken!

Even though I have myself taken quite a few photos, I have tried to minimise the number of photos I have taken in each place and made sure that I had time to really connect with what I was experiencing in the present moment especially in amazing places and sights like Macchu Piccu, Easter Island, the Moreno Glacier in Patagonia in Argentina (photos below) where we are tempted to take a million photos because we cannot believe that we are really there and want to remember that moment for ever. It is only by being fully present and engaged with what we are experiencing at a particular moment that we will be able to relive that moment over and over again without having to even look at photos to remember that we were there.

So how to be fully present when you travel?
1. Become aware of your impulses to take photos and of how many photos you take, ask yourself if it is really necessary? Are you actually fully present with what is going on around you in that moment?
2. Try to limit the number of photos you are taking and put your camera and phone away.
3. Make sure you have at least a few minutes even if you are on a tour and limited for time to just experience fully what is going on around you and inside you.
4. Start connecting with your breath, sitting or standing, simply observing the movement of your breath as you breathe in and out, noticing thoughts that come to your mind but letting them go and bringing yourself back to your breath, feeling your feet firmly on the ground, expand your awareness to what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, using all your senses to fully experience what is happening in the present moment, not thinking about it but feeling it through your bodily sensations. Of course it is easier to do so if you already practice mindfulness in your everyday life but try it anyway, it is much more powerful than simply taking photos.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and natureImage may contain: sky, mountain, cloud, outdoor and natureImage may contain: shoes, outdoor and nature

REFLECTIONS ON MINDFUL TRAVEL FROM SOUTH AMERICA – PART 3: THE CHALLENGES OF TRAVELLING WITH A FRIEND

(Posted on Facebook on 3/01/17)

I have been travelling with my friend Irina for 3 weeks now so it is about time to write about the challenges of travelling with somebody else and how mindfulness can help.

Would you agree that the most stressful situations involve other people?

Since traveling overseas can in itself be challenging at times because we find ourselves in a different cultural and linguistic environment, travelling with a friend can be even more stressful. Even if you are travelling with somebody you know fairly well and consider to be a good friend as it is the case for us, it is however very different when you travel overseas together which is why it is very common to hear stories of people who fell out after travelling together!

Indeed, Irina and I have known each other for 4 years and even though we are very different in some ways, we have a good connection, a matching sense of humour, share quite a few values and both love dancing, going out and having fun. Travelling together on this trip has of course been challenging at times, actually making us realise even more how different we are from each other but our connection and willingness to make it work has also helped us to operate within these differences and have an amazing trip together in spite of these challenges.

What kind of challenges can you encounter when travelling with a friend?

Firstly, you and your friend may have different priorities. For me it is food and shopping for food, for Irena it is window shopping for clothes or souvenirs which means that we have had to compromise but it has created some disharmony!

Secondly, you can have different ideas about what to do on holidays. For instance, Irina always feels that she has to be doing something, I am quite happy chilling out and just enjoying being in the now without having to go somewhere everyday. We worked around that by doing things separately at times during the day but our itinerary was more designed to see how much as possible whereas it would have been better for me to have more time in each place.  Another point of difference is that while I like to watch movies on TV in the evening to relax when I am travelling, she only likes to watch specific programs and does not like to have the TV in the background. We have also had to find a solution that worked for both of us by playing a game instead or listening to music or watching TV occasionally if we could find a movie in English we both were interested in watching.

Thirdly, you can have very different ways of looking at things. I am a big picture person and do not need to know about details or history of places as taking in the present moment is more important to me while Irina is very detail oriented and needs to have a guide to answer her questions whereas for me it is only distracting me from experiencing the now.

Fourthly, travelling and sharing a room with a friend you usually only see occasionally even if you are good friends, can also be very challenging because you do not usually have to put up with each other’s daily habits that you can experience as being irritating if you let them!

Fifthly, especially when you are on the road a lot as it has been the case for us, it is very easy to get triggered by each other when we are tired and irritable. It has certainly happened several times on this trip. When we have been feeling tired and irritable, just the tone of voice of the other or a misunderstanding has at times triggered an overreaction from both of us. Most of the times, we were able to not let these affect us except on one occasion where we were so upset with each other that we did not talk for a few hours while travelling together on a bus between Copacabana and La Paz. However, we were able to talk about what happened in the evening and move forward.

How can mindfulness help?

First, mindfulness can help through awareness and acceptance as discussed in the last 2 blogs. It is important to observe and become aware of our own behavior and thought patterns when we react to the other person. Through mindfulness practice, it does get easier to not react emotionally as much to a person or situation. However, when feeling tired and vulnerable it is extremely difficult not to, including for somebody who practices mindfulness regularly like myself. It is then a matter of accepting your reaction for what it is and see later what kind of steps could be taken to respond rather than react in the future to a similar type of situation.

Second, it is important to practice mindful communication after the conflict has happened once you have both calmed down in order to resolve it and move forward. This means both taking turn to really listen to the other and trying to understand where each other is coming from even if it does not make sense to you, from your perspective. We need to be able to put in each other’s shoes to truly understand each other’s feelings and perspective to be able to find a middle ground.

It is also important to acknowledge our responsibility for the role that we played in creating that conflict. It is good to use language like ‘I felt that you were being mean when you said that’, for example, rather than, ‘ you were mean to me’, which will only bring defensiveness or ‘you made me feel bad’, which means that you are putting the responsibility of your own feelings onto the other person. Even if only one of you practices mindfulness and knows how to communicate mindfully, you will still help arrive to a better outcome by putting these principles into practice when you talk to the other person to resolve a conflict.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, mountain, sky, outdoor, nature and water
Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

REFLECTIONS FROM MINDFUL TRAVEL IN SOUTH AMERICA – PART 2: ACCEPTANCE

(Posted on Facebook on 21/12/16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we travel overseas and things go wrong or become challenging as they inevitably do at some point, it is important to accept what is happening right now whether it is an unpleasant event happening externally or unpleasant thoughts and emotions that we have at the moment. It can be more or less difficult to do so depending on the event or situation but ultimately we need to be able to come to terms with what is happening or has happened even if we do not like it.

Indeed when we travel, there are a lot of things that are beyond our control even when we take precautions ie. taking medecine with you, having the necessary vaccinations before leaving, avoiding drinking tap water in some countries, avoiding eating in unhygienic places, putting your money and travel documents in the hotel safe, wearing a travel money belt, taking only official taxis, etc. While these precautions minimise some risks, the only thing that we can really be in charge of is how we react and deal with the unpleasant events that are beyond our control so we do not feel at the mercy of these events and our reactions to them.

I deliberately avoided saying that we can control our thoughts because that is not what we do with mindfulness. Trying to control our thoughts implies struggling with our thoughts and not accepting the thoughts that we have in the moment. This usualy results in creating more stress and pressure for ourselves which can make us feel even more disempowered. So it is not about controlling how we handle things that go wrong but it is about accepting both the event and how we deal with it. If we do not like how we handle these situations, then we can see how we can change our behaviour, but it is only through acceptance of how we are dealing with a situation in that moment without giving ourselves a hard time that we can then be able to see more clearly what steps we can take to deal dfferently with situations that are beyond our control.

Similarly, when we resist and struggle against the unwanted event or situation, wishing it was not happening or had not happened, it is also going to create more pressure and stress for us because it is nevertheless happening or has happened so might as well accept it. Accepting what is happening in the present moment does not mean that we have to passively resign ourselves to it or put up with an unhappy situation but by accepting that it is how it is right now we will be able to take steps to take action to be able to move forward.

The last week has been spent mostly in Peru in the Sacred Valley which was amazing, I had wanted to see Machu Picchu for so long and there it was in all its splendor. I knew about altitude sickness of course and took, as a precaution, some medecine against altitude sickness with me. Going up to Macchu Piccu by bus from Aguas Caliente was a bit challenging but I did not really suffer from altitude sickness there, it started afterwards in Cuzco, which is higher in altitude, with shortness of breath and feeling generally unwell so l had to cancel some of the tours I had booked and stay in my hotel room instead while my friend went on her own. I felt some frustration of course, I wanted to get out there myself, not be stuck in a hotel room but knew I had to accept both the situation and my thoughts and feelings of frustrations in that moment or i would create more stress for myself.

We then took a tourist bus from Cuzco to Puno, which lasted 10 hours with several stops to visit sites and my altitude sickness got worse, luckily they had oxygen on the bus and I was able to use it several times during the journey which did help me breathe more easily. However, the following day we crossed into Bolivia overland and my difficulties in breathing got even worse than before with also pains in the chest and feeling very unwell. I ended up having the hotel reception call a local doctor who came to my room with a bottle of oxygen twice in one day. I am breathing better now, however still feeling under the weather and decided to do very little today -just a walk from the bed to the bathroom and I am out of breath! I have also been only able to eat soup or grilled chicken and steamed vegetables for the past 6 days. Was this how I pictured my part of this trip? Of course not! However, I have had to accept that this is the reality of the situation even though I do not like it. I have found myself struggljng with this at times, I wanted to go out and try different foods, walk around, have a few drinks but I have had to accept that right now it is not possible and that I can still enjoy what there is. I do have a beautiful hotel room with a great view of the lake Titicaca and am taking this opportunity to rest and write this blog!

Also when we are feeling very unwell, we tend to feel overwhelmed by the physical symptoms, I realize that yesterday morning I felt so bad that by worrying about it and struggling with it because I did not want to feel this way made the symptoms even worse. Today, it is easier to accept it because I feel better than yesterday, however I still needto accept the limitations that I have right now and when I do feel a feeling of frustration or irritation, I observe the feeling and thoughts that accompany them and let them go. Tomorrow is my Birthday and was of course hoping that I would be able to do what I wanted to do but I know that I can appreciate what there is in the moment if I do not focus on what I wished I was able to do and get caught up in the feelings of frustration and disappointment.

REFLECTIONS ON MINDFUL TRAVEL FROM SOUTH AMERICA – PART ONE AWARENESS

 

(Posted on Facebook on 12/12/16)

Each week I will be reflecting on a key mindfulness concept and apply it to overseas travel drawing on my own current travel experiences in South America. The first concept I will be focusing on is awareness. Mindfulness is the non-judgemental awareness of what is going on in the present moment, this means becoming aware of what is going on in our minds, bodies and also around us as it is happening from moment to moment.

As research has shown, we have on average between 50 000 and 70 000 thoughts a day so we are often thinking about things that distract us from what is going on right now without being aware of it much of the time. It is only when we start practicing mindfulness that we become aware of how noisy and busy our minds are, that we are often missing out on what is happening in in the present moment and that a lot of the incessant thinking that we engage in throughout the day and even at night is not helpful to us.

When we are feeling tired and vulnerable, it is particulalry difficult to not react emotionaly to situations and events. We all get triggered at times by certain people, events or situations which means that we react emotionally mostly unconsciously because these situations remind us of something that happened to us regarless of how long ago it was.

When we travel, especialy to far away places, there can be many challenges because a lot of things can go wrong starting when we go the airport to start our trip. When we have to take several planes and wait for several hours at airports in between to get to our destination, we can feel easily vulnerable, worn out and stressed. We may be worried about missing our connections especially if our previous plane is delayed.

My journey from Melbourne to Santiago was in several stages and I found out a few days before leaving that I had to change airport at Buenos Aires with not much time to spare which had not been not the case when I had booked initially. While the planes were not significantly delayed, by the time I got to Buenos Aires I had already been travelling for 14 hours plus 5 hours airport waiting time with only one hour of sleep that night as I can’t sleep much on planes. By that time I felt quite exhausted but had to look for my transfer at Buenos Aires airport which I could not find right away. I do speak some Spanish but it doesn’t seem to come out very well when I feel worn out! I then had an hour transfer by bus to an airport on the other side of the city (I did not expect it to take that long) so that I was not sure if I would make my next plane. However, I did make it and arrive to Santiago a couple of hours later feeling utterly exhausted, dreaming of finally being able to lie down in my hotel room.

At the airport I could not find my transfer which did stress me out because i just wanted to go to my hotel room. So I ended taking an official taxi to my hotel but as it was an apartment building and not really a hotel, the concierge would not let me into my apartment, he called the owner who was at the airport waiting for me! apparently with a sign with my name on that I did not see. They wanted to make me wait at least half an hour before I could go into my room. By that time i was mostly reacting emotionally, feeling irritable and vulnerable and the concierge felt sorry for me and let me in finally. I was aware of how i was feeling and the thoughts that I had and once i was in my room i was then able to connect with my breath and centre myself before the owner came and I had to talk to him for a while before being able to go to bed finally!

What can we learn from this that it is normal to feel exhausted, vulnerable and reactive when we have had a long journey and arrive in a different country with a different language and culture even when we practice mindfulness, however when we become aware of how we are feeling and thinking and it makes it more manageable. Notably we are able to notice how fatigue affects us which can help with future trips. For instance, next time I may stop overnight on the way to cut the trip shorter. I also know that if I relax more into the fatigue next time rather than struggling with it and not getting caught up in thoughts about what I want and cannot have in that moment, it will also make it easier. It is only when we are aware of our thought and behaviour patterns that we can change what we do if we think that it is not helpful to us.

Being aware of what we are thinking, feeling and observing when we are traveling is also very important to be able to be fully present and make the most of this experience. I had an amazing trip to Easter Island this week. It is an island of such beauty, magic and mystery and I wanted to experience each moment fully without judgement, simply connecting with what was happening around me and in me, noticing when my mind started to judge or think about the past and the future and bring myself back to this unique experience. The fact that it was difficult to obtain an internet connection on the island was a bonus!

You might think that when you travel overseas you are fully engaged with what is going on and you are fully present because you are in a different country with new experiences. However, our minds still wander into the future and the past when we are on holidays and we can still get distracted by technology, it is only by becoming aware of how we get distracted from the present moment and bringing ourselves back to it by for example watching our breath or our thoughts without engaging with them or looking at sceneries and people and letting the judgmental thoughts go that we can fully appreciate our travels in the moment. See pictures of Easter Island above and below.

Mindful Travel Preparation

mindful-travel-preparation-dogAs I am about to embark on a 7 week trip to South America at the end of the week, I will be taking you on the journey with me by giving you a weekly account of some of my travel experiences and giving you some mindful travel tips that you can use in your own travel and your everyday lives.

Being mindful means being present rather than thinking about the past or the future as we often do. It means being aware of what is happening in the present moment in our minds, bodies and around us.  It means being fully engaged with whatever you are doing and using your senses to really experience what is happening in the present moment.

So what is mindful travel? It is usually very exciting to travel overseas. You could be going to a a destination where you have wanted to go to for a long time and finally got the chance to do so like me for South America, or you really need to rest in a different cultural environment or climate! or you are thirsty for new adventures and different cultural experiences.

However, travelling overseas can also be stressful. For instance, if you find yourself often stressed in your everyday life, you will also be experiencing stress on holiday when things go wrong.  This can even be more heightened during holidays because we want a break from our daily routine at home, we often pay a lot of money for it especially when travelling from Australia, and we may have high expectations for our holiday as a result.

If we tend to be a `worrier’ at home, we will start to worry from the time we begin to plan our holiday.  Indeed, when we travel overseas, a lot of things can go wrong which can be particularly stressful because we usually go on holidays to leave stress behind! The pressure of wanting to escape stress can actually create more stress for us when things don’t go as planned during our holiday. We can also feel especially vulnerable in a different culture, outside our comfort zone, especially when we don’t speak the language.

It is of course very important to prepare yourself for your holiday by booking your accommodation, doing some research ahead of time about the countries you are going to, making sure that you procure what you need such as visas, vaccinations and travel insurance and that you are taking appropriate clothing. It is also useful to prepare yourself mentally and practically if you are going to a destination that might feel a bit unsafe to you so that you can take precautions once you are there.  By being well-prepared you will be able to feel more in charge of your holiday and be able to appreciate more what is happening in the present moment during your travel.

However, there will always be times when things won’t go as planned and things will still sometimes go wrong even when you have done your research and a lot of planning. What makes all the difference is how you deal with `things going wrong’.  If we react with frustration and impatience each time things don’t go according to plan and keep focusing on these, then we will experience a very stressful holiday indeed.  If you spend a lot of time worrying about what might or might not happen when you are travelling, you will also find yourself being stressed and not able to fully appreciate what is happening in present moment and miss out on wonderful cultural experiences.

If you travel with somebody else, there could be added stress because as mentioned earlier we are likely at times to feel vulnerable, displaced, exhausted and irritable when we travel. When you travel with somebody else, you may also have different ideas of what a holiday is. For you it might be getting up late and spending a lot of time sitting at cafes doing people watching, for the other it might be being very active, getting up at dawn and going on a tour every day. If you are travelling with a friend  you do not usually live with and share a room, each other’s habits might get on each other’s nerves if you let them.

If you are travelling with somebody else, part of your travel preparation will also involve talking to the other person about what kind of holidays you each want and agreeing on strategies to take time out and respect each other’s needs as well as solving possible conflicts.  For instance, I will be travelling with a friend in South America for 4 out of 7 weeks and we will be sharing a room.  We have agreed on checking in with each other regularly if we need our own space and want to do something on our own during the day. We have also agreed to take time out to calm down if we do get annoyed with each other before talking about it, trying to understand where the other was coming from in order to move on.

Practicing mindfulness is important while travelling because you then find yourself being able to manage disappointments, frustrations and irritations more effectively not letting them impact negatively on your overseas experience. The more you can be truly present when you are travelling, really taking in the scenery, connecting with how you feel, using yours sense of smell, touch, sight, and hearing, you will be more fully in the moment so you can have a truly wonderful holiday that will stay with you not only in your mind but in your whole being.

Being mindful also starts with holiday preparation, not only by making sure that you do all the external preparation that is needed to minimise the amount of things that can go wrong, but also with internal preparation.  First, it is important not to have unrealistic expectations. Notice if you have thoughts that say that you want your holiday to be perfect or that you want things to be in a certain way. Second, notice if you are thinking a lot about the negative things that could happen on your travels. Third, notice how you are feeling, is there a sense of fear or anxiety? If so, create a distance between you and your thoughts and emotions, just tell yourself, `I notice that I am having the thought that `I am worried about such and such’ or that ‘I really want everything to be perfect’ or `I notice that I am having a feeling of fear or anxiety” and let the thoughts go. By naming the thought, you are creating a distance so that you don’t get caught up in the thought and the emotional charge that comes with it. Practice several times a day.

I have to admit that as my trip is approaching I feel both excitement and fear.  I am a seasoned traveller but it’s my first time in South America, it is a long trip and I do have several concerns like safety, travelling with health problems and with a friend when I am used to travelling on my own. However, through regular mindfulness practice I am able to watch my thoughts and stay with the feeling of fear without letting it take over, just connecting with my breath and feeling the sensation of fear in my body, being curious about what this sensation feels like (noticing its size, shape, colour, where it is in the body without judgement). In this process of distanciation, I get out of my thoughts, ground myself in my body and experience a complete different relationship with the sensation of fear than if I let it overwhelm me. Try it!

Watch this space, next time I will write from Easter Island.

 

Dr. Lise Saugeres and Warren Howard: How To Manage the Stress Of Change – Part 2

 work-stressIn this 2 part article Dr. Lise Saugeres and Warren Howard discuss the topics of Organisational Change and Stress. In part 2 Warren and Lise discuss how organisations and staff can manage and reduce the stress of change.

 

How can people reduce the stress of change?

mindful-man-at-workLise: The first step is to actually accept that the change is happening. It will clearly take much less time to accept a change that has more of a short-term impact on your job and quality of life, for example, having to change buildings or office in your organisation than a more drastic change such as restructuring and job uncertainty. However, whether a particular change has a major or more minor impact on your life, it is still necessary to accept that it is happening.

Accepting change does not mean that you have to like it or resign yourself to it if you are not happy about it but accepting that it is happening makes it easier for you to be able to take steps to improving your situation. Sometimes, it is a matter of getting used to that change. If you try to struggle against it and begrudge it even though you have to go through it if you want to continue working in the same organisation, you will feel very stressed.

As in my example earlier, when we had to move buildings, if I had been able to accept that change right away, I would have managed the stress of moving much more effectively. In the case of restructuring, if you first accept that it is happening rather than worrying about it and fighting against it within yourself, you will be able to see more clearly what you can do to make it manageable for yourself.

The second step is to become aware of how change affects you, by noting the thoughts and emotions that you have in relation to a particular change without judging yourself for it. It is only by becoming aware of how you react to change that you can then choose to respond differently.

Both steps will be much more within your reach if you practice mindfulness, which is the awareness of what is going on in the present moment. Learning mindfulness techniques and incorporating them in your everyday life will help you accept what is happening in the present moment, enable you to become aware and manage your thought patterns and emotional reactions.

Warren: Organisational leaders have a big role to play in minimising the stress caused by change. People look to their managers for guidance and certainty when things are shifting. It is important for leaders to build trusting relationships with their teams and even when there is uncertainty, to be as open and frank with their people as possible.

Having open discussions about the reasons for and impact of change will help people understand and accept what is happening so that they can be more responsive to being involved and not feel it is outside their control. Leaders must also be on the watch for how people are responding and act accordingly. Not everyone will put their hand up if they are feeling overwhelmed and emotionally intelligent management is required to monitor the pulse of the team and how individuals are coping.

 How can organisations reduce the negative impact of stress through change?

 Lise: Research evidence has shown that mindfulness training can really help reduce the negative impact of stress on organisations. It can do so in two ways. First, through mindfulness training, staff are given the tools that they need to be able to manage and reduce stress and become more resilient to stress and change.

Second, being mindful also requires the organisation to address structural factors that create potentially stressful situations. For example, if restructuring, creates an environment of job uncertainty, the organisation needs to see what it can do to address this problem. It is not enough to train staff to become more resilient to stress if organisational factors that can cause stress are not minimised.

 Warren: Stress doesn’t have to be all negative. Creating a sense of urgency is important for getting things started and for some this may be uncomfortable. Stress brings energy and this energy can be harnessed constructively if there is careful management. By this I mean planning and preparation. Giving forethought to the impact and stresses change may bring and implementing effective measures to deal with these in a timely and sensitive way is important. In terms of employee welfare this can mean having ready access to support when needed.

It also means having clear plans of action and timelines so people can see how and when they will be involved or affected This gives them time to prepare and can eliminate any potentially stressful surprises. And finally, the impact of change should be monitored just as for any KPI or results-based measures. Many change efforts start with an impact analysis or change readiness assessment but once underway that needs to be supplemented with regular organisational check-ups to ensure the patient is surviving the ordeal!

Conclusion

Organisational change can be stressful particularly if there is inadequate attention to its impact on staff. Imagine arriving home one night to find someone else living in your house or to find that your house has been moved to another location. How would you feel, what would you do? Being prepared and emotionally equipped for change enables us to respond better.

Mindfulness techniques can be employed at the individual and organisational level to help reduce stress caused by change. It is a positive way for managers and leaders to take a people-centred approach to improving the success and sustainability of change initiatives in the future.

 About Dr Lise Saugeres
Dr Lise Saugeres is the founder and Director of Experiential Mindfulness Melbourne. Lise helps small to medium businesses reduce workplace stress and improve productivity and performance through mindfulness training. Lise has a PhD in the Social Sciences from Manchester, UK, and has had extensive research and training experience in organisations. To find out how Lise can help you and your organisation, visit www.experientialmindfulnessmelbourne.com.au or contact Lise on 0405 067 030.

 About Warren Howard
Warren Howard is the Director of Howardco Business + HR Solutions. Warren is a People Management and HR specialist with particular expertise in Workplace Engagement and Change Leadership. Warren has been responsible for medium to large-scale change initiatives in a wide range of industries helping clients with systems integration, restructures, cultural re-alignment and new business ventures. Visit Howardco at www.howardco.com.au or contact Warren on 0417 594 760.

 

Dr. Lise Saugeres and Warren Howard: How To Manage the Stress Of Change – Part 1

stress-of-change

In this 2 part article Dr. Lise Saugeres and Warren Howard discuss the topics of Organisational Change and Stress. In this first part, Warren and Lise discuss the impact of organisational changes on staff and the type of stresses that change can lead to.

Change can create many stresses in organisations. From an employee perspective, it may be the fear of losing one’s job, fear of learning a new skill or shifting to a different and unfamiliar environment. For leaders, woman-at-work-with-paperschange may bring about fear through uncertainty, fear of failure or a loss of power or influence. For whatever reason the very act of change can have unintended consequences on the health of an organisation, which if unaddressed may result in unnecessary stresses that make change efforts falter or worse still, fail.

What changes are happening in organisations?

Warren: Change is being forced on many organisations due to external pressures or is being internally generated as a means of competitive advantage e.g. being first to market with a new product or service. Industry disruptors are shaking up traditional ways of doing things and established players must respond and innovate to remain relevant. Changes can take many forms but there are basically three types to consider, each having a different impact on the organisation:

1) Strategic change: is where there is a fundamental shift in purpose or direction such as the creation of a new business, new product, acquisition or refocus of the existing business on a new priority;

2) Process change: is where the emphasis is on improving the performance or productivity of the business through the introduction of new technology, systems or work methods;

3) Organisational change: is where there is a re-design of the way the business is managed including outsourcing, restructuring and role changes or physical changes such as relocations and off-shoring.

These changes are occurring faster than ever before and are quite often occurring concurrently, adding to stress and confusion in already fast paced, competitive work environments.

Why do people find change stressful?

Lise: Change can be very difficult. We are used to doing things in a certain way and we derive a sense of security and certainty from it. Sometimes, even changes that only impact negatively on your job in the short-term, like moving to a new location and changing offices, may, however, be destabilising.

I remember when in the university department where I worked several years ago, we all had to move to a new building which was not totally ready for occupancy. There was still work being done, not all the computers functioned and the heating did not work. Even when these problems were eventually solved, I still felt unsettled, begrudged the move and found it difficult to concentrate on my work for a couple of weeks. I thought that was surprising because I was used to change, having lived in four different countries, moved houses and changed jobs many times. However, I realised that the stress that I experienced as a result of this move came from the fact that it had been imposed on me.

Of course, when a major change with longer-term impact on staff, like restructuring or outsourcing takes place or there is a change in business direction, this can be even more stressful for them. They can feel very uncertain about their future, especially if there is a risk of redundancy or they need to reapply for their role. These changes can cause anger and grief among the staff, especially if they have been employed in the organisation for several years, because they may feel unappreciated and are left feeling stressed and anxious about the future.

Why is managing the stress of change important?

Warren: Work related stress is on the rise and one of the contributors to this is the impact of organisational change on people. According to the National Health and Safety Commission, work-related stress accounts for the longest stretches of absenteeism and is the second most compensated illness/injury in Australia, after musculoskeletal disorders. If you combine the fact that many change initiatives fail to meet their objectives with the rising cost of employee welfare, you have a business case for managing change better.

One of the key reasons change initiatives fail and, consequently, create unnecessary stress at work is the lack of understanding of how people respond to change and the lack of effective internal processes for helping people cope with and manage the challenges of change.

 Lise: Learning to manage change is very important because we undergo many changes throughout our lives, whether these are self-initiated or due to external causes.

When an organisations experiences high levels of stress, the whole working environment will be impacted by it negatively. It may lead to increasing tensions and conflicts among staff in the organisations. Productivity and performance will also suffer as it is difficult to concentrate and function properly when experiencing high levels of stress. Employees may have to take sick leave as a result and use the EAP program, resulting in significant costs to the organisation.

What are some of the stresses that change can cause?

 Lise: Change in an organisation can cause stress in many ways. For instance, staff may worry about losing their job or their financial security, about who they are going have to work with, or simply because they are not happy with the changes. When they are stressed, they may feel drained and exhausted, anxious, fearful and irritable. Because stress is both a mental and physical response to an event, staff may experience headaches, digestive problems, problems sleeping, illnesses or may even injure themselves.

However, even though stress can be a response to external events, like organisational change, what causes stress is actually how we perceive and react to these external events. Indeed, it is how we perceive and think about change, for instance, that will determine how much stress we will experience.

For instance, two employees may deal with change very differently even though they may both be feeling unsettled by it at the time. One might become very stressed out because he or she worries about the situation over and over again, keeps thinking how bad it is going to affect him or her and keeps wishing that it was not happening. In contrast, the other employee might be able to focus on what he or she may learn from it and what they can do to improve their situation. By doing so, the latter employee will experience significantly less stress than the former.

About Dr Lise Saugeres

Dr Lise Saugeres is the founder and Director of Experiential Mindfulness Melbourne.  Lise helps small to medium businesses reduce workplace stress and improve productivity and performance through mindfulness training.  Lise has a PhD in the Social Sciences from Manchester, UK, and has had extensive research and training experience in organisations. To find out how Lise can help you and your organisation, visit: https://mindfullyserene.com.au or contact Lise on 0405 067 030.

About Warren Howard

Warren Howard is the Director of Howardco Business + HR Solutions. Warren is a People Management and HR specialist with particular expertise in Workplace Engagement and Change Leadership. Warren has been responsible for medium to large-scale change initiatives in a wide range of industries helping clients with systems integration, restructures, cultural re-alignment and new business ventures. Visit Howardco at www.howardco.com.au or contact Warren on 0417 594 760.