If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, you might be surprised to learn that a well-earned vacation is exactly what the doctor ordered. Traveling helps to increase mental and physical health, boost productivity at home and work, and clear the mental fog that comes from refreshing your email every ten minutes.
Read on to discover the scientifically-proven mental health benefits of travel – plus tips for getting the most out of your trip.
And we’re not talking just long term. Traveling has an immediate positive impact on your health. For example, in one study conducted by The Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Assn., respondents reported an 89% decrease in their stress levels after one or two days. The study also found that women who vacationed rarely – every six years or less – were more prone to developing a heart attack or becoming victims of coronary death than women who vacationed at least two times a year.
As we know, the effects of chronic stress on our brains and general functioning are severe. Cortisol, the stress hormone that dips during vacation, has been called Public Enemy #1 by doctors and psychologists because it hinders the brain’s ability to learn, negatively affects memory, and leaves you susceptible to disease and high blood pressure.
Point being: don’t think of your vacation days as frivolous jaunts away from work. Unplugging from the grind is essential for your overall health and well being – and will actually improve your work performance once you get back to the office.
Take care of business before your trip
For many people with anxiety, the thought of planning a trip can seem overwhelming. The key is to start planning early, and break down your to-do list into manageable pieces.
Make a list of things to accomplish before you jet off to Paris. Hire a pet sitter to feed, cuddle, and walk your dog. (Note: if your pets are a big part of maintaining your mental health, take a framed photo of them with you on your trip, or schedule a Facetime session with the sitter. It may seem cheesy, but if it helps ground you, it’s totally worth it!)
Update your passport. And consider making a packing checklist and home security checklist. Doing so will make the actual travel portion of your vacation run more smoothly.
Leading up to and during your trip, keep your routine as normal as possible. Don’t skip therapy appointments or forget your exercise routine. Drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep, and maintain a healthy diet. It’s fine to splurge, but preserve your mental-health routine as much as possible.
Travel to treat depression
A recent study from Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic found that women who vacation twice a year are less likely to suffer from depression and chronic stress. So, you need that travel time to beat the blues. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with depression, booking a vacation will help reduce your negative symptoms and provide space to recharge.
Remember that depression takes on many forms, and symptoms vary from person to person. A museum-filled jaunt through Western Europe may sound like a dream, but perhaps a serene trip to a quiet lake, armed with a stack of books, better fits your personality and would foster more mental healing.
Listen to your inner voice. And be mindful of times when you’re trying to fit some “vacation ideal” instead of looking at what matters to you.
Give yourself some space – even on “obligatory trips”
Because life happens – and it includes weddings, anniversaries, and family reunions – many of us end up spending our well-earned vacation days supporting loved ones. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Part of being a good friend and family member means making sacrifices for the people you love.
But if you’re traveling back to your hometown for a friend’s wedding, consider booking a room at a hotel room or grabbing an Airbnb instead of sleeping on your parents’ pull-out couch. If that’s not a financially-viable option, carve out time for yourself by retreating to a park to meditate. Go for a walk, enjoy a relaxing massage, or catch that movie you’ve been dying to see. Above all, plan to have your own space – and protect your “me” time.
Make a date with yourself, and show up!
Now that we’ve outlined all the ways that traveling improves mental health, it’s time for you to pull out your calendar and pick a date! We hope that your trip leaves you a happier, healthier, more well-rested person.