10th October 2019
One in four people in the UK, and one in five in the US, experiences mental health problems, with depression and anxiety being the most common. There may be many factors that cause this, and it doesn’t discriminate on who it affects, but the reality is that many people are trying to cope without much help.
If your world sometimes seems a little dark, unfriendly or lacking any true meaning, one truly effective way of breaking out of a cycle of stress or mundanity that often exacerbates mental health problems, is to travel.
The pursuit of discovery in unfamiliar settings might seem intimidating, especially if it’s new to you or you don’t feel like your old self, but from the moment you plan your trip to after you come back, the benefits of getting out into the world can be felt almost immediately.
Here’s why we think travel is a great way to improve your mental health:
It changes your way of thinking
Breaking out of routine can do wonders for your mental health in many ways. Having a goal helps you to focus, gives you something to work towards and offers a huge distraction from feeling less than inspired. It’s good to remind yourself that there is a whole world out there to discover and a simple change of scenery can reinvigorate your lust for life.
And the great thing about travelling is, it’s a worthwhile endeavour. You’re learning along the way, whether that happens to be from meeting new people and hearing new stories, finding out about the history and significance of a place or perhaps it will open you up to learning some valuable things about yourself. After all, you’ll have more time to read, participate in classes, pick up a new language or…you’re free to simply do nothing and recharge.
Because sometimes, getting out of bed to see the sunrise is an achievement in itself. And then sparking a conversation seems a little easier. Suddenly, that mountain you want to climb doesn’t seem quite so high. Whatever the hurdle is, it might just be the marker from which you set all your goals, ‘if I can do this, then that should be no problem at all…’
There are practical reasons too…
Travelling challenges you in ways you don’t get at home. Getting from A to B is very simple when you can punch an address into Google or order an Uber. There’s very little in life that can’t be organised through our trusty mobile phones and as a result, we’ve withdrawn from one another and sought solace in the protective bubble technology affords us.
However, once you take away the technology comfort-blanket, you have no choice but to interact with others or solve problems by yourself. Loneliness is a huge cause of depression, but in a new country, locals might be eager to interact with you to practise their English, or fellow travellers more open to conversation, especially if they’re on the same tour as you.
You’re not alone
If anyone has ever told you that you shouldn’t feel down because there are people in the world who have it worse, then they probably don’t understand much about mental health problems. You just end up feeling guilty and ungrateful, on top of feeling down. But when you travel, you meet such a range of different people from all walks of life. Sometimes, it’s people who survive things most of us would struggle to imagine, and here they are, living.
To still see a smile radiating through difficulties, or tears flowing without stigma, can have a profound effect on the way you view your own life or the world in general. It doesn’t fix anything, but it can arm you with a different perspective and comfort you in the feeling that you’re not alone.
It can also help you to discover ways to manage your mental health on a long-term basis, through, say, a free yoga class they offer at your hotel or a meditation session at a temple; practices that have been around sometimes longer than medicine itself. It can’t hurt to try.
Give something back
One of the most effective ways of combatting mental health problems is to help others. It doesn’t mean you have to build a school to make a difference, but by choosing your excursions carefully, staying in eco-friendly hotels or volunteering for the day, you’ll make a huge difference by lessening your impact on the world AND you’ll feel good about your contribution.
Of course, this could also mean just showing people kindness. If you have coped with problems of your own, it’s probably armed you with a true superpower that every traveller should have: empathy.
Don’t think of a holiday as an escape…
You’ll only feel worse once it ends. To be better at our jobs, sometimes we go for training. To be a better friend, we spend time with those we love. A holiday needs to be thought of as a kind of personal check-in; a chance to pay attention, away from the noise of life, to what moves you, to remember how you felt when you felt good and what it was that helped that so you might try to replicate it. Writing things down can be helpful - whenever you get overwhelmed and need a release, it can offer a perfect outlet in which to express your feelings without letting them weigh you down. Or it might serve as a reminder of how good things can be.
And if that doesn’t work, learn to cook a dish you enjoyed while you were travelling, read books set in that destination – or start planning your next trip.
Although it’s important to remember that you can’t escape your problems, travel can certainly help you to gain a little clarity, offers a break from a negative cycle and might even open you up to a different way to cope when you feel yourself slipping again. Just be patient and kind to yourself and gradually, one step at a time, you'll see the world is brimming with reasons to smile.