The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Clearly mental health is integral to have a fulfilling life.
Mental illnesses can range from less common conditions, like bipolar disorder, to more common ones like depression and anxiety. The NHS in the UK reports that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children experience mental illness during their lifetime. What’s more, it has been argued that mental illness can lead to physical illness. However, the significance of mental health is still mistakenly overlooked in many societies. Mental health is as important as physical health and requires nurturing and active maintenance.
Travel is a great way to maintain mental wellbeing and, by extension, it contributes to a happier and more fulfilling life.
When you travel, you may try new foods, witness amazing sights, meet new people, and spend time with loved ones. Experiencing all these new things can have a positive impact on your mental health. Sometimes, you need a change in perspective to reset your mind and find new ways to cope with your symptoms. Travel and mental health may seem like a scary combination, but it can lead to great results.
Benefits of TravelTraveling to new places is good for everyone. If you’re feeling stressed at work, a vacation can be the best solution. Traveling can improve your mental health by:
Allowing for regular resets.Making time for regular travel can have a better impact on your mental health. Going to different places regularly can improve the benefits you get from vacations. Some people can feel the positive impacts of their vacation for up to five weeks after their return.
It can help you stay fit and healthy
Physical exercise is known to improve mental wellbeing, and travel offers ample opportunity to get active. Whether you enjoy pounding the pavement on a city break, swimming in the sea or summiting mountain peaks, getting to know a new destination by embracing the great outdoors can boost energy levels and improve your mood.
Immersing yourself in and connecting with nature is another key way to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression – and while you can do this anywhere (even in cities), it makes sense to incorporate a little ecotherapy into your travels too.
It gives you a different perspective
Experiencing different cultures can open your eyes to new ways of living. Something as simple as learning a new recipe or changing the way you spend your downtime can have a dramatic effect on your wellbeing. Travel can lead you to question and challenge the norms of everyday life at home, potentially inspiring you to make positive changes.
When I feel my own stress levels rising, for example, I like to think back to my experiences riding in tuk tuks in Sri Lanka. As we overtook buses on blind corners, dodged death-wish pedestrians and got cut up by countless motorbikes, our driver remained relaxed and took it all in his stride, as did other road users. Despite the chaos, everyone was calm. After a few of these journeys my own worries and bewilderment dissipated as I realised that the alternative responses – fear or road rage – serve no-one. I try to apply this lesson to my life at home: you cannot control the actions of others – only the way you respond to them.
It increases creativityIt’s been scientifically proven that new experiences – particularly ones that allow you to immerse yourself in a different culture – improve the neuroplasticity of your brain, increasing creativity in the process. After a stint of grief-induced agoraphobia, Erica Buist travelled around the world to take part in seven festivals for the dead – and is writing a book about it.
It lowers stress levelsSometimes all your body and mind need is a rest – and where better to chill out than on a sun lounger somewhere warm? Sunshine is a great stress-buster, giving you a dose of mood-boosting vitamin D and increasing the brain’s release of serotonin, the so-called ‘happy hormone’. Leaving work stress and the everyday routine behind in exchange for afternoon naps, leisurely walks and the freedom to make your own schedule can do your mental health the world of good. Spending time away with friends and loved ones can add to the feel-good factor, while solo travel can refresh your sense of independence.
It boosts self esteem and confidence
Travel isn’t always swaying palms and spa days. It can also mean navigating crowds in excessive heat, getting lost, struggling with language barriers or culture shock – all of which is extra challenging if you’re prone to feeling down or anxious. Claire and Laura from Twins that Travel have found that dealing with travel stress has helped them cope in their everyday lives.
‘For us, travel has become an unlikely form of therapy for our anxiety. By keeping our worlds “big”, travel gives context to the smaller tasks in life that can often feel overwhelming when you suffer with anxiety. For example, the elation of stepping off a plane after getting ourselves to the other side of the world makes completing a short train journey seem easily achievable. Travel continues to keep our lives open and fulfilled, which in turn, leads to better mental health.’
It’s an act of self care
When you’re feeling low, it’s easy to feel guilty or undeserving of nice things. But treating yourself to a trip – whether it’s a staycation or far-flung getaway – can be an empowering act of self care.
‘Of course, anxiety and depression can make travelling difficult. Anxiety makes me worry about doing it, and depression both saps my energy to organise it and tells me I’m not worth the effort,’ says David. ‘Planning a trip can be a good way to push through that and show yourself some love or give yourself some purpose.’
As well as the focus and excitement travel planning can bring, travel itself grants you the freedom to do what you love, take time to rest and practice living in the moment. To this end, for many people, travel is not simply an enjoyable pastime, but an essential part of fostering a healthy, positive mindset.
Travelling helps us to rewire our brain from the daily workload and study grind, this boosts our self-confidence, and our life feels more fulfilling when learning from new experiences.
Research has shown that learning new things and exploring new places is a new source of happiness. From the planning up to the whole trip can increase one’s happiness. Travelling makes a traveller look forward to something new in the next destination.
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Allows us to focus on being resilient
Living in tough situations and going to exciting destinations strengthens your emotional and mental state. Getting out of your comfort zone by facing unfamiliar places and meeting new people makes you emotionally strong, independent and more patient.
Facing difficulties while travelling helps you deal with work and study issues with patience. Travelling teaches us to accept situations calmly and with more resilience.
Travelling with loved ones helps meet your needs for love and belongingMaslow’s hierarchy of needs identifies love and belonging as key psychological human needs. Sharing your amazing travel adventures with loved ones helps enhance your connection with them while intensifying feelings of love, belonging, and fulfilment. Think of a family holiday on a beautiful island or a trip eating all sorts of delicious food with your best friend.
Make a tradition out of itThere are lasting effects of a vacation. People who travel regularly experience those effects for longer. After traveling, you’re more likely to feel clearheaded and ready to take on whatever’s waiting for you at home. This is why people are more productive after a break. Try to visit a new place every once in a while to help your mental health.
Explore new placesLearning new languages and going new places opens your mind. This might feel counterproductive, but getting out of your comfort zone can be good for your mental health. Your empathy increases when you go to places you’ve never been before and experience other cultures. This helps you feel more appreciative of your surroundings when you return home.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of travel go beyond making memories and meeting new people. Getting out of your comfort zone and exploring a new place can have a remarkably positive impact on your emotional wellbeing.
After returning from a short holiday or a long trip, you must assess your experience if it was pleasurable. The wonderful things that travelling brings to your mind add to your readiness to face again the daily workload and plan for your next travel destination.