For many people, breaking from their routine and to travel and try new things is an essential part of self-care. It’s not just something that airlines and travel agencies have made them believe either.
There is plenty of evidence that, beyond the giddy exhilaration of being in new places, our mental health may actually benefit from travel in some very fundamental ways.
New experiences, such as what you get when traveling to a different country, can build new connections in our brain, a process that may help such problems as post-traumatic stress (PTS) and substance use disorder (SUD). It could also help give people a healthy distance from their daily routines, allowing them to better assess their real emotional and mental state.
Below are some of the things to think about before you travel for your mental health benefits. And before you leave, if you need evidence-based treatments for substance use disorder, check out this resource on SMART Recovery in Boston.
Travel can sometimes heighten anxiety
Traveling for mental health is not for everyone. There are people for whom traveling can trigger feelings of anxiety or even full-blown panic attacks.
This doesn’t mean, however, that people with travel anxiety cannot benefit from a break in their routine. Depending on how severe the travel anxiety is, all it may take is thoughtful planning, choosing a destination that elicits less stress or having a reliable traveling companion with you who understands your situation.
Your prescription medication may be illegal or unavailable at your destination
If you’re traveling out of state or to a foreign country, make sure that any critical medication that you need is legal in your destination country. For instance, medical marijuana products that are commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety in some states may be illegal to possess in others.
Your travel insurance might not cover mental health needs
Even when it isn’t a requisite for visiting a country, getting travel insurance is usually a good idea. However, your travel insurance plan may not cover mental health emergencies, which could be difficult to handle when they happen in a place where you might not even speak the languages. It can be a good idea to shop around a bit for the right policy or to ask your insurance agent if they can help you find a plan that suits your needs.
Consider choosing a destination that won’t stress you out
Everyone is different. Some people find that they enjoy party destinations more than trips to cultural sites and natural wonders. Others are quite the opposite.
You may want to leave room for a change in plans
The whole point of traveling is to be able to experience something different. Part of the fun is to do things outside your comfort zone. For example, you might find that you’re going out for drinks or that you might have to do some heavy socialization.
These situations are not necessarily bad, but they can be if you have specific conditions like SUD or anxiety disorder. There’s a difference between something that’s merely out of your comfort zone and something that could set off an anxiety attack or a substance use relapse.
It can help to keep your options open so that you can go or try something else when you feel like it. If nothing else, there is nothing wrong with just relaxing a bit in your hotel room and ordering room service if things get a little hectic.
Give yourself time to decompress on your return
Always schedule your return trip so that you arrive a day or two before you go back to your regular grind. Not only will it give you time to unpack, get the laundry done, and recover a bit from jet jag, it will also help you better contextualize and benefit from the trip you just had. Going back to your regular schedule right away can be a stressful experience in itself that could ruin your mood and remove some of the mental health benefits of your trip.