Travel Agents

Mental health tips from The Indigo Project’s Patrick Dixon

No matter how you look at it, this pandemic is causing the travel industry to suffer in a way we’ve never seen before.

We’ve spoken about the financial hardship, covered all the murmurs about domestic borders opening and showed you every expert opinion on the industry’s way out of this mess that we could get our hands-on.

But one aspect of the crisis that has been largely overlooked is perhaps one the most important: mental health.

Travel industry professionals face increasing job insecurity, pay cuts and job losses, not to mention the impacts of working from home on an otherwise overtly social profession.

We chatted with registered psychologist Patrick Dixon, who works at The Indigo Project in Sydney’s Surry Hills, about some simple coping mechanisms and how the industry can begin its path towards healing.

Travel Weekly: What tips do you have for maintaining mental health through difficult periods? 

Patrick Dixon: Recognising it is a difficult time, practising self-compassion, while not dwelling on what we cannot control.

During times of uncertainty, we want to control what we can to ensure as much predictability as possible. Controlling what we can fosters self-efficacy and self-belief and allows us perspective on accepting the things we cannot.

Both self-efficacy and acceptance can help to mitigate feelings surrounding loss and anxiety while cultivating positive emotional experiences such as achievement, tenacity and contentment.

Setting small goals or micro-tasks to complete, like reading 10 pages of a book a day, cooking dinner or cleaning the bedroom can foster a sense of achievement even during the hardest times.

When we do nothing, we feel worse, so keeping active and focused on tasks around the house can be helpful. A handy exercise app is HIIT workout, which gives free high-intensity interval workout sessions with demonstrations of each exercise.

TW: How about tips for those who have found themselves stood down?

PD: Acknowledge it is a difficult situation and practice self-compassion. Dr Kristen Neff has done years of research on the efficacy of self-compassion and has a range of helpful resources on her website self-compassion.org.

Quite often, we underestimate our ability to cope with difficult situations, and the worst-case scenarios we imagine more often than not do not happen.

Coming back to the present moment through mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing and reminding ourselves “thoughts are just thoughts”, focusing on what can be controlled and accepting the things that can’t, and showing kindness and self-compassion are all ways to maintain mental health in difficult times.

TW: And those working from home?

PD: Set a healthy routine: a regular wake up time, work start time and end time. Practice clear boundaries between work and life – this can be done by exercising after work to break up the day, doing something mindfully after work to switch off like cooking, watching Netflix or reading a book, or getting creative. Apps such as Habitica and Habitify are great in helping to establish and maintain healthy habits.

Book in regular catch-ups with friends and family. It can be easy to fall into the “I can’t be bothered” way of thinking when catching up with others is made more difficult, which is why it’s even more important to make that extra effort.

The benefits? Maintaining healthy connections and a balanced lifestyle, which will enhance positive emotions and reduce the effects of loneliness and sadness.

Take the time to write a letter to a loved one. Not only does this keep us connected, it gives us an opportunity to practice gratitude which is an evidenced supported method in improving happiness. Spend time telling this person why they are important to you, how they make you feel, and reminisce over fond, shared memories. This alleviates loneliness and promotes warmth and togetherness.

TW: How can travel professionals train themselves to not take negative media reports to heart? For example, current affairs programs’ attacks on travel agents?

PD: Reduce your exposure to speculative media sources, and put things into perspective: media outlets such as these are infamous for looking for juicy stories as they are more entertaining.

Remind yourselves that it is the job of the media outlet to do this can deter from taking things personally and establish some distance between the negativity portrayed and ourselves.

TW: And what can they do to alleviate the anxiety of looming job cuts and financial insecurity? 

PD: Remain focused on the present. Grounding exercises such as the five senses technique (name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste) helps us to reconnect with the moment when we notice ourselves becoming preoccupied with unhelpful thoughts.

Deep breathing (five seconds inhale, five seconds hold, six seconds exhale) with the aim to fill up the diaphragm.

Unhooking from our thoughts is also effective. When noticing a thought or thinking pattern is unhelpful, acknowledge the thought, accept it, and then gently unhooking from the thought and bring attention back to the present by thinking “thought are just thoughts”.

An excellent app is the act companion app created by Russ Harris, one of the gurus of acceptance and commitment therapy. Put in the code ‘together’ in the subscription section to have free access to all the techniques.

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