We’ve probably all said, “I need a holiday” at least once! Looking after your mental health and wellbeing should be a priority, and sometimes taking a break from the daily grind is just what’s needed. It’s great to fulfill that sense of wanderlust, and darn awesome to be sipping margaritas on a sunny beach, but in addition we now have scientific evidence that indicates that exploring a new place can do good things for your mental and emotional health as well.
Here are five evidence-informed ways travelling can make your mind happy and healthy
1.It boosts happiness and satisfaction.
Staying in one place and doing the same thing every day, is comforting for some but for others, it can make us feel trapped. Switching up that routine helps to stimulate our minds and these new experiences help to rewire your brain. This in turn boosts your mood and self-confidence.
The effects of travel are not only felt during and after your trip. I don’t know about you, but even the act of planning a trip brings me joy! And we’re not the only ones. According to a Cornell University study, the anticipation of a trip can increase your happiness substantially (even more than the anticipation of acquiring something tangible like a new vehicle). Not only this, but a study by the University of Surrey found people were also more positive about their health, economic situation and general quality of life.
2.It’s a great stress reliever.
It can happen to any of us – and happens to many of us – the stress of work and daily demands can distract us from what we actually find to be meaningful and fascinating. If you are able to take a break from deadlines, long commutes and a hectic home life, this gives your mind an opportunity to relax, recharge and rejuvenate. Whether it’s packing up the camping gear and heading into the wilderness, or packing your bags and crossing a dream destination off your bucket list; travelling promotes happiness and can take your mind off stress back home. What happens in turn is that our cortisol (stress hormone) levels are reduced, making us feel more calm and centered.
Making time for fun and discovering (or rediscovering) our interests, plus meeting new people, opens our hearts. When your head and heart are cleared, you can return home and be a better family member, friend and employee (or boss should that be the case).
You also tend to be in charge of what you do, and when you do it when travelling. Less expectations are placed upon you. Even if it’s a busy trip and you’re not relaxing so much, you can still learn to go with the flow.
3.It helps you reinvent yourself.
Adventure travels (whether cultural immersion or a challenging physical adventure), in particular in a foreign country, can give you the opportunity to re-evaluate and restructure…even reinvent your life. Trying new cuisines, seeing incredible sights and meeting locals can be truly eye-opening. Being immersed in a different culture can really put things into perspective – observing the differences can help you to re-evaluate your own values and principles, and increase your gratitude. If you happen to be recovering from a major transition (or even celebrating one!), exploring new places can give you that fresh perspective and start you need. Increased happiness, purpose, confidence are just some of the positive benefits that people report.
4.It boosts your mental resilience.
Facing difficulties in an unfamiliar environment, in the midst of new people, forces you to problem-solve and adapt. And this makes you more patient, flexible and emotionally strong. And I would say, there is no bigger travel experience, then a solo one, that will do this. This is where I personally, have learned my biggest lessons on surrendering control. This learning can help you deal with your daily life with more patience and grace.
Further, doing things that are nerve-wracking or seem scary can you leave you with a legitimate sense of pride and achievement. Things like navigating from point A to point B in an unfamiliar city automatically build up inner strength and enhance your self-esteem.
5.It enhances creativity.
This doesn’t mean you have to attend a writer’s retreat or cram as many art gallery visits as possible into your vacation. Simply immersing yourself in the local environment of a foreign place increases your cognitive flexibility. In simpler terms, our brains are sensitive to change and influenced by new environments and experiences and the brain will reorganize itself and form new neural connections (neuroplasticity) and this is linked to creativity. It is important to note that simply visiting a new place isn’t going to cut it, you must engage in the local culture.
All of these things are positive yes; but it’s important we remember that travelling can be quite stressful for some (I’ve been there, I get it). So perhaps short, structured vacations are a better fit. Even better, plan your trip in advance, down to the small details if necessary, to avoid any last-minute panic and anxiety.
Also important, is properly reaping the benefits when you return home from the trip. Holding onto the pleasurable aspects is one thing – how can you re-create those feelings back home? Maybe it’s a new recipe or a fresh attitude. Maybe you were more active – can you incorporate that into your routine? And what about some of those other variables mentioned above – problem-solving challenging situations, learning patience or surrender, having your creativity stimulated – spend time reflecting and dissecting the larger lessons from your experiences and how that can impact your life more positively moving forward.
If you do live with mental illness here are a few things to keep in mind:
Before your trip – talk to your doctor and ensure prescriptions are up-to-date and refilled. Make sure there are no restrictions on your meds in the country(ies) you are travelling to. Pack them in their original containers with a prescription or carry a copy of the current prescription. Bring more than you need. Pack them in your carry on if you are flying. Find out if your health insurance will cover mental health care while abroad. In not, consider buying supplemental travel medical insurance that will.
During your trip – Take your medications as per your normal routine. Practice good self-care in adequate rest, hydration, eating healthy and exercising regularly. Pre-arrange contact via phone or email with family and close friends. Seek help if you need it. Your embassy in the destination can help you locate medical services if needed and will notify your family or friends in the case of emergency.
After your trip – Evaluate your mental health and visit your doctor or other health professional if you think you need help. Reflect on what went well and what less so during your travels. Can you make positive changes in your daily life at home? Do you need to add or remove something?
Nearly 450 million people worldwide are currently living with a mental illness, yet nearly two thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek treatment. It is critical we end the stigma and create inclusive communities that care. We might have a mental illness, and we might not. Either way we can all feel well.
I actually am a trained mental health professional with specialized knowledge in the areas of trauma recovery, positive psychology and mindfulness. If you deal with mental health issues, or want to boost your mental health, and want to know how travel might help reach out to me. I offer a free 30 minute pre-trip planning session (this is not counselling, nor should take the place of any kind of mental health treatment). You can contact me at email@example.com