Traveling can be exciting, energizing, relaxing, and even lucrative. It can also be stressful and, in some cases, lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. You may find yourself having to cope with a new setting, unfamiliar people, and even different customs. There are steps you can take, though, to mind your mental health when you are traveling. For example, you can manage your stress and maintain your treatment plan. You can also take advantage of the trip to improve your mental health, and plan ahead for mental health emergencies.
EditManaging Your Stress
- Learn about your destination. Traveling can be fun, exciting, and relaxing, but it can also be stressful. You may worry about only knowing a few people, not knowing the customs, or not knowing your way around. One way to make traveling less stressful and better for your mental health before you even leave home is get as much information about your destination as you can.
- Research the location online or check out travel guides from your local library.
- Learn what you can about the weather, terrain, people, language, and accommodations.
- Use an itinerary to help you avoid the stress of not knowing when and where you’re supposed to be.
- Manage your stress when traveling with others. Traveling with someone you trust can have a lot of benefits. Companions can help alleviate the stress caused by the uncertainty of travel by reassuring you and helping you manage your mental health. If possible, try to travel with someone who is supportive, rather than someone who already stresses you.
- If you’re comfortable enough with your travel mate, let them know that you’re trying to mind your mental health while you’re traveling.
- If you’re traveling with someone who generally stresses you, then make sure you’re doing everything you can to manage your stress in other ways.
- Be mindful of your mood. This means being aware of what you’re thinking, sensing, and feeling at each moment. It means being fully present in the moment. While you’re traveling, make sure you’re paying attention to subtle changes in your mood. Doing this can help alert you to potential mental health issues that are arising.
- Ask yourself several times a day, “How am I feeling right now? What emotions am I experiencing? How does my body feel?”
- Be particularly mindful during times of high stress or when there are unexpected events or changes in your travel plans. For example, you might pay extra attention to how your feeling if your flight is delayed.
- Stay active. Physical activity is an excellent way to maintain your physical health, manage your stress, and mind your mental health. This is true whether you’re at home, traveling for business, or on vacation. It can help relieve tension, energize you, and improve your mood. While you are traveling, make time each day to get some physical activity.
- Take a five-minute walk each day after lunch to explore your new surroundings.
- If your accommodations have a fitness facility, take advantage of it and start your day with a brief workout.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Having a variety of ways to relax can greatly reduce the stress of traveling. Being able to calm yourself when you start getting angry, lonely, anxious, or over-excited will help you maintain good mental health while on your trip. You’ll be better equipped to handle unexpected changes and situations in your travel plans.
- Try deep-breathing to help calm you. Practice slowly inhaling through your nose, holding it for a few moments, then slowly letting it out through your mouth.
- Practice visualizing yourself someplace peaceful doing something relaxing and calming.
- Keep in touch with people at home. It’s not uncommon for people who are traveling to feel isolated and a little stressed because of the unfamiliar setting. This can be especially true for people traveling abroad or for people traveling for a long period of time. It can cause you to feel depressed or anxious. It can also lead to a relapse of pre-existing mental health issues. You can overcome this and mind your mental health by staying connected with friends and family at home.
- Make use of technology and social media. Video chat with loved ones to share your experiences with them. Ask them to post pictures and videos of things going on at home so you don’t feel left out.
- Let someone at home know the details about any changes in your travel plans as soon as you make them. This keeps you safe and helps your stress less — and the stress levels of your loved ones.
- Keep a journal. Journaling is a great way to document your travels and preserve your memories. It’s also a way to document, monitor, and work through any emotional or mental concerns you might have while on your trip. Take some time each day to write an entry in your journal.
- Write about your experiences and activities while you’re traveling. Make note of both positive and negative events.
- Include information about your mood, stress levels, and mental health. For example, you might write, “I was really stressed when my connecting flight was delayed. It made me feel anxious.”
- Choose nutritious foods. When you’re traveling it can be easy to eat foods that look and taste good, but lack nutritional value, as you sample the local cuisine. Make sure you’re balancing this by also eating foods that are good for you. Choose foods like vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains that can help you stay focused, give you energy, boost your mood, and support your brain health.
- Avoid processed foods and those high in refined sugar like those sold in most transportation and travel vending machines.
- Make sure you are eating plenty of protein and whole grains. For example, you might select grilled chicken on whole wheat flatbread for lunch.
- Drink plenty of water. If necessary, take or buy bottled water to make sure that you’re staying hydrated.
EditMaintaining Your Treatment Plan
- Update your mental health professional. Letting them know about your travel plans is a good idea for several reasons. They can help you plan what services you’ll need to continue and which you can temporarily suspend while you’re traveling. They can also help you access services at your trip location.
- For example, you might say, “I’m going to be traveling soon. Could we talk about how I should handle my treatment plan while I’m gone?”
- Or, you may want to ask, “Are there parts of my treatment plan that I can take a vacation from while I’m traveling? Which parts should I continue?”
- Continue taking your medication. If you’re currently taking medication to manage a mental health issue, it’s important that you continue taking it as prescribed while you’re traveling. The novelty, excitement, and even relaxing feeling of travel can have you feeling you don’t need your medication. But changing your medication could cause mental health issues or other negative side effects.
- Plan for things like changes in time zone or being in transit when it’s time for you to take your medication.
- Make sure you refill any needed medications before you leave for your travels.
- Check airline and other transportation policies regarding the proper way to pack and label medication.
- If you are traveling abroad, check to make sure there are no border restrictions on any of your necessary medications.
- Set up services in that area. This can be an important step if you’re traveling for an extended period of time or if your mental health professional recommends it. Having access to therapy and other forms of treatment can help you prevent mental health issues while you’re traveling.
- Ask your mental health professional about helping you set up services at your destination. You might say, “Could you help me find a reputable psychotherapist in that area?”
- Ask them to forward or provide you with any documents you might need to receive the appropriate services. You could say, “Could you send an overview of my treatments to my travel therapist?”
- Visit a local support group. This is a good way to meet people in that area, as well as help you cope with the stress of traveling and any mental health concerns you might have. The people in the support group can provide encouragement, companionship. They can also provide strategies for minding your mental health in general and while you’re traveling.
- Consult a website like Mental Health America at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/find-support-groups for information about support groups in your destination area.
- Consider joining an online forum or support group if you aren’t confident about navigating the area or if you’re traveling to an area without an appropriate support group available.
- Avoid substance abuse. When you’re traveling it can be easy to feel as though it’s okay to indulge a little in alcohol or other substances. It may be legal or even encouraged where you’re traveling to. You should be careful, though, to avoid thought- or mood-altering substances while you’re traveling. They can interfere with medications and other treatments. They can also put you in danger by altering your perception and functioning. In addition, they can cause a relapse in mental health problems
- Look into ways to explore and enjoy your destination that don’t involve alcohol or other substances.
- Practice politely, but firmly, declining anything that may have a negative effect on your mental health.
EditTaking Advantage of the Trip
- Rest and relax. You probably have a number of responsibilities and obligations that keep you busy in everyday life. During your travels you may feel the same urgency to do everything, go everywhere, and see everything. But this can leave you feeling more stressed and tired than you do at home. Use your trip as an opportunity to get some of the rest and relaxation you miss out on at home. This can help you release stress and tension in general, which helps promote good mental health.
- Take advantage of layovers and other down time by taking a brief nap, reading, journaling, or peacefully exploring your destination.
- On professional travel, carve some time out from preparing, meeting, and negotiating to just sit quietly and calm your mind.
- Take into account the effects of jet lag and time zone changes and make sure you’re giving your body time to adjust.
- Treat yourself. It’s natural to want to look and feel a little special when you’re away from home. In fact, it’s a good thing. Splurging on yourself a little can boost your self-esteem, mood, and outlook on life. In other words, it helps you maintain your mental health. So, do something special to treat yourself while you’re traveling.
- Put together a new outfit or try out a new hairstyle to wear out and about on your trip.
- Treat yourself to a special meal (including dessert) and try some of the local cuisine. Remember to keep most of your other meals healthy, though!
- Strengthen relationships. If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel with a loved one or a friend, use the trip as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them. The time together sharing new experiences without the stress of day-to-day life can boost the quality of your interactions. This can help relieve any tension in the relationship, which means less stress and better mental health for you.
- For example, you could use your trip as a way to rekindle the romance with your partner.
- Or, as another example, if the relationship between you and your teen is strained, you could use the trip as a way to reestablish communication by talking about the experience.
- Talk to your travel companion about anything concerning you. They can offer support and help you problem-solve.
- Increase your gratitude. It can be easy to get bogged down in your day-to-day life and lose sight of all the things you have to be grateful for. But evidence suggests that being grateful can help promote good mental health by helping you to remain positive about yourself and your life. Traveling is one great way to take a step back and appreciate all that you have in life.
- Be grateful for the small, positive, things that happen while you’re traveling. For example, you might be grateful that your train left on time and wasn’t full.
- Or, for instance, you might appreciate the amenities you have at home compared to what’s available at your travel location.
EditHandling Mental Health Emergencies
- Create a crisis plan. No one plans or expects to have a mental health crisis when they are traveling. However, studies suggest that about 10% of travelers with mental illness experience a psychiatric problem while on their trip. You can handle an emergency much more effectively if you already have a crisis plan in place just in case.
- Ask your mental health professional to help you create your plan. You might ask them, “What should I consider including in my crisis plan?”
- Include things like emergency numbers to your primary mental health provider, primary pharmacist, pharmacist in your destination area, a crisis center and mental health provider there.
- Include insurance information, a list of your medications, and any other important information.
- Research crisis support in that area. It can be frustrating, scary, and possibly detrimental to be in a mental health crisis and not know where to get help. Before you leave for your trip, take some time to find out about emergency mental health services in the area that you’re traveling to. This way you’ll know where to turn for help if you should need it.
- In the U.S., you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Safe Alternatives at 1-800-366-8288.
- The International Association for Suicide Prevention at http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/ provides a great list of crisis services worldwide.
- Have an emergency contact. Knowing that you have someone whom you can alert if there’s a problem and will be checking in on you can help you manage a mental health emergency when you’re traveling. This might be your travel companion, a person you trust in the destination location, or someone at home.
- Ask someone close to you at home to check on you every so often. You might ask your friend, “Could you call me every few days just to check in and make sure everything’s going well?”
- Make sure your emergency contact has up-to-date information regarding how to get in contact with you, where you’re staying, insurance information, medications, etc.
- Remember that traveling can be a fun, relaxing opportunity to rejuvenate yourself.
- If you begin having thoughts of harming yourself in any way, you should contact crisis or emergency services immediately.