To travel or not to travel

By: Anna Cristina Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | July 14,2021 - 09:20 AM

I was talking to a colleague who, like me, was fully vaccinated (A1 for me, A3 for her). We were curious what the other had done since. It turned out that nothing had really changed in our routine. We still stayed home for the most part. Dining out? Too scary. Getting vaccinated did not inoculate us from fear. Travel? The whole experience sounds stressful: You would have to confirm the various local policies around entry, secure the necessary tests or clearances, find the appropriate accredited accommodations, and brace for possible last-minute flight cancellations.

Recently, the IATF released a memo that interzonal travel (travel between provinces) for those who are fully vaccinated no longer required showing negative COVID-19 test results, including for vaccinated seniors. Baguio has already opened its doors to a limited number of tourists. And my social media feed has made it seem as if everyone had gone to Boracay. It makes sense: Businesses need to stay alive so that jobs can be saved. The loosening of restrictions can also be a counterintuitively effective public health strategy — it incentivizes people to get vaccinated so they can enjoy such perks.

Currently however, only three percent of Filipinos are fully vaccinated, rendering unrestricted travel a privilege of the very few. Another important thing to consider is that I can unwittingly carry the virus (as we can still be carriers) to mostly unprotected communities. How can I think of travel when I barely have the courage—or feel too responsible—to step outside?

A lot of us are familiar with the physical and mental tension that accompanies us when we have to go out during the pandemic. Have you experienced headaches, stomachaches, or even start to feel ill when you arrive back home? Do you then worry that you’ve caught the virus (even though it’s almost impossible to feel symptoms minutes after exposure)? Sometimes it is fear itself that makes us sick. We feel these symptoms not because of COVID-19, but because we have been holding our breaths and clenching our muscles the entire time we were outside. We’ve become too scared to breathe.

The solution to this isn’t to barricade yourself at home, either. Avoiding what you fear makes you more fearful. If fear and avoidance escalate, you’ll find yourself tense and stressed even in the safety of your own home. By then, you won’t feel safe anywhere. To be truly safe, you must live your life responsibly—and to the fullest.

When lockdowns first started happening, I was worried for the people I was helping who were suffering from anxiety and depression. One of the most important—and simplest—things you can do for mental health is to go out for a walk. It is by no means a cure. But somehow, changing your environment and engaging in physical activity make the body and mind less hospitable to the suffering. Policies didn’t seem to appreciate the importance of physical activity, as facilities for it were among the first—and longest—to be shut down: gyms, pools, and parks. The number of people suffering from mental health-related concerns spiked when people were forced to stay home; devastating but unsurprising.

And what about the children? They need a lot of physical activity and playtime with peers for their development. Children also learn best through direct experience. They need to go on field trips and outings and to experience as many new things as they could. They also get easily restless and bored—due to their bodies needing a lot of stimulation to grow—which can turn to more serious mental health problems if prolonged.

Workers benefit from changing their environment, too. It helps ease the strain and allows their minds and bodies to recover from the monotony. It makes me wonder if people still make use of their vacation leave; why ask for one when you can’t go anywhere? But still, working nonstop (especially if you’re worried about getting laid off) can likewise bring about health problems, both physical and mental.

If we can allow travel exemptions for those whose work requires it, surely we can make similar exemptions for people whose mental health depends on it.

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TAGS: fully vaccinated, go out for a walk, IATF, interzonal travel, lockdowns, loosening of restrictions, mental health, Travel

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