One area of travel that can be overlooked is mental health. We spend so much time planning and moving around that it can be difficult to remember to look after ourselves. In this article, we will describe mental health, the effects of traveling, and methods we can use to take care of ourselves.

What is mental health?

Mental health relates to our emotional, psychological, and social health. Mental health is not only the lack of emotional or psychological conditions. According to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes her or his own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Many different biological and familial (genetic) factors as well as life experiences contribute to our mental health. These include brain chemistry, genetics, trauma, stress, discrimination, and lifestyle factors. As the combination of risk factors increase, so do the chances of mental health problems.

The effects of traveling on mental health?

Traveling can have positive effects on mental health, but can also provide additional stressors. Very few would argue that travel isn’t stressful. This stress can trigger or exaggerate existing depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, violent behaviors, and mood swings. However, there are some benefits of traveling on your mental health. These can include:

  • Getting a different perspective on yourself, other people, and the world as a whole
  • Increasing self-confidence and happiness
  • Providing you with a greater sense of resilience when obstacles appear
  • Improving creativity and depth of thought
  • During some points of traveling, your stress level can actually decrease when you’re away from the stressors at home

What can I do to take care of myself when traveling?

One of the most helpful ways to take care of yourself while traveling is to identify possible stressful situations before you leave. In addition to the travel-specific recommendations, check out the next section listed below about more general methods of self-care.

Before you leave:

  • Talk to a healthcare professional about your health, including physical and mental health. This includes your health history, current health, medications and supplements, treatments, and prevention strategies.
  • Don’t let your travels take away from caring for yourself. When traveling, we can easily get caught up in our plans and forget to listen to our minds and bodies.
  • Just like at home, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly can help reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends. It’s important to remember that you have people there for you. Additional sources of support include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) if you would benefit from those while traveling.
  • Keep up with your medication routine (and appointments if you are seeing a mental health professional while traveling). Your medications will not be effective if the balance in your body is not maintained.

When you return:

  • Continue with your scheduled appointments and medications. Getting back into a routine can help ease the transition of coming back home.
  • Sometimes mental health conditions do not appear until you are finished traveling. If this occurs or if you are feeling worse, talk with a healthcare professional. During this time you can discuss your recent trip and get treatment for whatever issues you are facing.
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