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I recently had to work abroad for a few days and there is another trip scheduled for a few weeks time.

The first time, since the time I arrived, I felt depressed and dejected. I didn't sleep properly and I lost my appetite. Since finding out I have to go again, the same symptoms have manifested.

I've tried to work out the cause of the anxiety but I am agitated because I can't work out what it is:

  • The work wasn't a problem, there wasn't actually very much for me to do and I don't think I achieved anything meaningful so I wasn't overworked.
  • I didn't like being away from my partner, but I've spent time away from them before.
  • I was a bit worried about what was expected of me before we left, but I think I handled everything that was expected well
  • Company – I get along with the coworkers I was with well enough, so it wasn't socially uncomfortable.
  • I don't have a problem with flying.

I'm currently the only person in the ideal role, but there are others that could manage. I'm happy to do extra work to help somebody else learn what to do or to work remotely (if this is technically possible. It's not currently, but there was talk of making it possible anyway).

Some other information that may be pertinent:

  • We are contractors for the company abroad.
  • My boss is away for the next few weeks. I'd prefer not to disturb him, but this does feel like something I should mention sooner rather than later.
  • I don't want to play a "this is a mental health concern" card. I feel like it will seem like an "excuse" rather than a sound reason.
  • I've only been in this job 3 months and I'm still in my probation period.

What is the best way to explain to my boss that I'd really not work away again as it made me feel depressed and stressed?

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    No matter what happens for this particular incident, the symptoms you describe are worrying. Often there are environmental triggers that can cause low-level depression to escalate. I would consider seeing a professional therapist/psychiatrist as soon as possible. You might find that a second trip raises your anxiety level and causes even worse depressive symptoms. Wish you the best. – mcknz Jul 30 '15 at 16:44
  • If your benefits include an employee assistance program, you should take advantage immediately. Some programs provide 24-hour phone or even Skype (or similar) availability when you need to speak with someone urgently or are traveling in a different time zone. These programs are horribly under-used, but your employer provides them just for this sort of case, to help you balance your personal wellness with your work responsibilities and identify how and what to adjust. – Air Jul 30 '15 at 18:09
  • It gets easier. If you've only been away a few days, you really shouldn't completely reject the idea of travel abroad until you've tried it several times. Perhaps find ways to deal with the jet lag and things to keep you occupied while remote? – teego1967 Jul 30 '15 at 19:44
  • Yes @JoeStrazzere. A similar problem has encouraged me to revisit this question and its answer. The edit was simply because I noticed grammatical errors. The bump I assume that brought you back to this question was unintentional. – James Webster Oct 26 '17 at 14:25
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As to:

how can I tell an employer?

It depends on the employer but I think generally and almost universally the best policy is to be frank and to say pretty much what you have said here. Be very apologetic: Emphasize that you don't want to cause problems for your manager or colleagues and hate that this might do that but you feel you have no other choice - the damage it's doing to your health and personal life is just too much. I think the employer, if they're good, would take what you have said seriously and try to accommodate you.

You say

I'm already anxious about having to go again

Anxiety is a very real and debilitating problem for lots of people in different ways (for example, here in the UK, a charity devoted solely to helping sufferers of it: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/) - but it doesn't have to be. There are therapies for it that can work wonders. A good employer might suggest or even insist that you seek out such treatments.

That you are new to the company and the best to do the work is a problem and would make me cautious about coming forward about this. It certainly might not go down to well.

Will all that in mind therefore, I suggest be proactive about it and seek treatment yourself before talking to your employer. Only you know quite how serious are the health problems that it is causing you and whether you could cope with actually overcoming this but

  1. if the health problems are not too serious (for now), and
  2. if the job is important to you, and
  3. if you would actually like to be able to work abroad free from these side-effects

then I recommend seeking treatment yourself before going to your employer about it. If, in the end, you do go to your employer and say "I just can't do that" then at least then you can demonstrate to them the supporting evidence of the treatment you have been trying (that you are not just being lazy or over-sensitive). That time would be at least a little further down the line as well, which would give you a bit more time for you to prove your general worth to them.

  • I like both parts of your answer. =] Not coming across as "just being lazy or over-sensitive" is crucial. The latter more so as I'm generally proactive at work and feel like I've made a good impression with that so far. Something I forgot to mention in my question is that the job is underground, no natural daylight, so it could be seasonal affective disorder (or something similar) but I think I may speak to a doctor about this. Thanks – James Webster Jul 30 '15 at 16:51
  • @JamesWebster Thank you and you're welcome. I think you should see your doctor. There indeed might be something else causing this. I wish you all the best with this – Avon Jul 30 '15 at 16:55
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How about something like "Hey boss, last time I worked abroad it really effected my sleep which had a big impact on my quality of life. It takes me a long time to bounce back to normal once my sleep cycle is altered. Can we look at some options to [achieve whatever the goal of travel is] without me traveling? How about [appropriate alternative]?" This states a specific problem and offers a solution.

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How far from home are you? Could this just be related to the distance you travelled? Jet lag? I once had to fly to India (from the US) for three weeks. It took 3-4 days for my body to adjust to the time change and the new food. Until then I felt very similar to what you describe.

You should certainly speak to your supervisor about your concerns, but you may want to give it a chance, maybe by staying longer and letting your body adjust. From your comments, it looks like you are the best person for the job based on skills and experience, so it would be good for you and the company to try to succeed.

  • This could be a contributing factor, but it was only a two hour flight and I was only one time zone away. Longer flights and more time zones rarely give me trouble. – James Webster Jul 30 '15 at 17:43
  • OK, I interpreted 'abroad' as a longer trip. – cdkMoose Jul 30 '15 at 17:44
  • I suppose most places in the U.S. involve a decently long flight to go abroad. From the comparatively tiny UK, it doesn't take much. 😋 – James Webster Jul 30 '15 at 17:46
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Your mental health is important and I like the answer from Avon +1.

Mental health is not a card or an excuse. If you are having anxiety, depression, and loss of appetite that is real.

From the perspective of the company when they hired you did they tell you that travel was possible. If this is a consulting company it should be no surprise to you that consultants travel to customer site.

Yes deal with your mental health and talk to your boss but be prepared for travel is an expectation of the job. Hopefully they will not tell travel next week or you are fired but they may tell you we don't have a long term position for you. I get you already have anxiety, depression, and loss of appetite and that statement is not going to help that but that is a reality.

Don't use the term mental health with you employer unless you seek medical help as then it does come off as an excuse. If it rises to medical health then you need to treat it.

  • We're not a consultancy and don't have to travel often. We're an agency. I don't recall being told explicitly that travel was expected, but implicitly I knew it was possible – James Webster Jul 30 '15 at 17:38
  • OK, then first of all address your mental health. It is not an excuse it is a reality. They may come back with travel is an expectation of the job but that would be really unfair. – paparazzo Jul 30 '15 at 17:44

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