Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jet lag: A sketch.

**Note: This is an abnormally long post. If you don't want to read a long post on the details of jet lag, then you might want to skip this one. If you're interested on learning more about jet lag, read on!

If you’ve been keeping up with my recent blast of blog posts, you know I’ve arrived safe and sound in Singapore. I thought I’d take this post to detail something else that I’m frequently questioned about: Jet lag. It deserves its own post. And since I’m currently severely jet lagged, I thought now would be a very opportune time at which to write.

Is jet lag one or two words? 


So here’s my founding theory as to WHY jet lag is unpreventable. We are humans. We were designed as a social animal, an animal that might wander a fair distance from one’s cave, perhaps cross large spans of land or sea at some point over many years of one’s life; at the heart, a creature that was designed to travel and pursue the horizon – but by foot.

Then we went and got fancy and made cars. Okay, so far, so good. We’re getting there faster than on foot, but we’re still getting a chance to take in the change as we go.

Trains, same deal, albeit far more exciting than cars (I have a Sheldon Cooper-esque love for trains). And chronologically, I know trains occurred before cars, but I’m going in order of relative speed and travel-maximizing potential. In any case, you can still take in your changing surroundings.

Ocean liners? Boats? Again, same deal. Time to observe change. Time to see and feel the differences in the nuances of the world around you.

Then we went and got really full of ourselves. Let’s fly. Flying sounds great. Imagine the distance we can travel! And so, the sheer desire to outstrip our previous accomplishments being both the beauty and the drive of humanity, we did.

And then we harnessed that power to go from one side of the earth… to the other.

In a DAY.

Poor Homo sapiens was not built for this. Our brains and our bodies were meant to observe change, take in progressing daylight differences, gradually move meals earlier and later and so forth.

Then we go and rocket ourselves at 38,000 feet up across a planet.

And you think that drinking “lots of water the day before!” is going to FIX the shock that that action is going to have on your body and your mind? I think not.

(I mean, drink lots of water, anyway, because it’s good for you. But not too much, because hydrotoxicity is a real thing.)

If you make a trip like this, you will be jet lagged. Here are my tips on how to handle it, combined with what to expect, because I can’t make two lists right now and I think just smooshing them together is a good way to go.

  1. Expect jet lag. This sounds obvious, but it’s not. I think that half of the emotional trauma comes from not knowing WHAT IS HAPPENING to you. Here’s a hint: It’s jet lag. Jet lag is like the El NiƱo of bodily issues. If you've taken a long trip by plane and your body is acting weird, it’s probably jet lag.
  2. Expect jet lag to make you feel and act differently. Forwarned is forarmed, as they say. (Forarmed? I think that’s right). Right now, I’d like you to imagine an average human standing in front of you. Now, give the human a hangover. Stop laughing – visualize it! Now, imbue the human with the raging hormones one might expect to find in a 14-year-old. Got it? Good. Now, make the human a toddler. Make the toddler tired. Make the toddler hungry. Give the toddler a mild flu. Now add a dash of severe attention deficit disorder. Congratulations! You just visualized jet lag! Understanding that jet lag WILL AFFECT YOU is key, I think. It helps you to “get a grip” when you need to. It helps you to be mindful and take care of yourself. Don’t baby yourself, but also be aware that you’re not going to land on the other side of the planet, bounce out of the plane, and set about frolicking around the country. Well, you may for like 10 minutes, and then you’ll self-destruct, Mission Impossible style. I recommend that whatever the time is where you’ve landed, try your hardest to do what others are doing at that time. If it’s the middle of the night, get to bed. If it’s broad daylight, go out and eat a meal. Try to meld yourself into the destination time as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t nap. Naps are good. Naps are crucial (set an alarm – more on that later) – but do try not to sleep for 5 hours straight in the middle of the day. It’s not going to help.
  3. Expect jet lag to make you act differently physically: Expect mild flu-like symptoms. Aches, nausea, headaches, chills and sweats. Expect your appetite to be completely messed up. You’ll go from one extreme to the other: You’ll get yourself a plate of food and you’ll be ravenously pounding it like a junkyard dog snarfling meat up off a hubcap, and then WHAM! You hit a brick wall. Your stomach decides it’s had quite enough, thankyouverymuchplease, and now the mere THOUGHT of your food will make you feel nauseous. Eat small and eat often, is my advice. And you know the old adage “Feed a cold, starve a fever?” I would add: “And give jet lag whatever the hell it wants.” Salad for breakfast? Great! Bacon for lunch? You can diet later!
  4. Expect jet lag to make you act differently emotionally: Remember my joke about hormones? Raging hormones, which put your emotions out of whack, is a good analogy to jet lag. Little things will make you cry. Or super annoyed. Or obnoxiously happy. Expect a roller coaster. Expecting it can help you to control it, so you don’t break down and cry when you unpack and discover your picture frame broke.
  5. Expect jet lag to make you act differently mentally: Simple things will confound you. When I say simple, I mean like ziplock bags. You thought I was going to say ATMs or something? Go back and read #2. Put that person in front of an ATM. See what I’m talking about? Avoid sharp objects and open flames when you’re jet lagged. But seriously, realize that you’re going to be forgetful. Make lists – even if you’re not a “list person”. Realize you’re going to blank out on words. Be patient with yourself. The guy at the front desk was sending something up to my room and asked me what floor I was on. I had to think, not because I had forgotten the floor, but because I could see the number 19 in my head, but I could not remember the word for it. So I took a deep breath, relaxed my mind, and there it was, after a brief search. I was unpacking and searching madly for my chapstick (chapstick addicts will understand). I tore open one bag: All that was in there was my hand cream, my chapstick, my pen, note pad and phone charger. Where is my chapstick?!?! I tore apart two more bags, and checked the first another time before I found it. You know, right there. In the first bag I checked.
  6. Understand that jet lag is not permanent. It will all be over soon. After 24 hours, you’ll notice that the majority of your symptoms have gotten a great deal more manageable. Expect not to feel completely normal, though, until you’ve gone one day for each hour time difference you’re experiencing. Also expect that the more hours you go, the more severe your symptoms will be. If you’re going from Buffalo to California, to start with, the symptoms are going to abate in 3 days. They’re also not going to be as drastic. If you’re going from Buffalo to Singapore, expect maximum symptoms (especially if you go in one fell swoop – this is another reason why I love my stopover reprieve in San Francisco) and expect not to feel 100% until Day 12.
  7. Understand that you’re bigger than jet lag and jet lag does not have to control you. It doesn’t have to win. Eventually, it’ll be over, and until it is, you can function in society. You can work your job. You can go out with friends. You may have a few moments that you’ll have to be honest with yourself (and others) and say, “Hey – sorry about that – I’m really jet lagged”, but you CAN do it. And I say again, expecting it is huge in controlling the symptoms. If you’re going to work on Day 2, make lists, prepare way ahead, and get good food and more sleep than you normally would. Don’t ask too much of yourself, but keep yourself going, at the same time.

Oh, and set alarms. Lots of alarms. Do not put a snooze button within reach of yourself.

“Oh, I NEVER use the snooze button! I always spring out of bed with all the vim and vigor of a cheerleader on homecoming game day!”

Go back and read #2 again, will ya? Would you trust THAT person with a snooze button?
I didn’t think so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my chapstick.


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