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Mind Trip: How Traveling Can Affect Mental Health and Mood

By HERWriter
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mind trip: traveling can affect your mood and mental health MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

It’s the middle of the summer and burning up, at least in Arizona, which means a lot of people are trying to hit the road for a cooler destination. Even if you’re not taking a vacation, you might be traveling for your job, or preparing to move to a different residence or to visit family and friends.

And whether you realize it or not, traveling can actually impact mental health for better or worse.

Deborah Legge, a licensed mental health counselor said in an email that whether travel is embraced or avoided, it is a “break from the norm” and can impact our moods.

“For some, getting away can help to decrease the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression,” Legge said. Others can see an increase in symptoms due to stress, feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed due to leaving the familiarity of home.

“Loss of sleep that often occurs when we travel can contribute to increased problems with mood stabilization (as in bipolar illness),” she said.

For people who enjoy traveling in general, it can enhance their mood to be in a new climate and to see distant family and friends. Travel can be a “healthy way to unplug and recharge at the same time,” Legge said.

“When you are truly away, you are more likely to enjoy your downtime in a guilt-free way; you are more likely to allow yourself to relax,” she added.

However, when people are forced to travel (like for a job or moving) they could experience stress, anxiety, irritability and overall negative emotions, Legge said.

Sometimes even when people are excited to travel, the process can be stressful. It can involve driving for hours, maneuvering though airport security, and worrying about flight safety. You may find yourself hurrying to get places on time (especially during holidays and bad weather).

“Fortunately, these annoying factors usually have a fleeting effect on the overall experience, so what we remember is the good time away with family and friends,” Legge said.

Here are a few of Legge’s tips for keeping your mind, mood and emotions healthy during your future travels:

1) “Plan ahead. As best you can, plot out the details of your trip. Put all of your confirmation and travel information right into your phone so everything is at your fingertips when you need it.”

2) “Give yourself plenty of time. Whether you are flying, driving, or taking a train, leave early and enjoy the luxury of jumping off the hamster wheel while you are away.”

3) “Be prepared. Make sure to pack what you need. However, when it comes to medications, be sure to pack for a few extra days in case your return is delayed for any reason.”

4) “Think ahead. Coming up with ideas to relieve your stress, anxiety, or depression might be tough to do in the heat of things. Make a list of things you can do to better manage the stress/anxiety/fears/panic/depression when you are away.”

5) Ways to manage mental health issues can include: “Listening to some soothing music or a relaxation audio you downloaded; using breathing exercises and/or meditation to calm you when you are overly stressed; writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal until you have someone to share them with; taking a walk or a run when you need to get away; or a phone number of a support person you can call if needed.”

6) “Be realistic. Don't try to jam too many things into your trip. If you've always had a fear of flying, don't expect that to vanish just because you need to travel. Just because you are going away does not mean your anxiety and/or depression are going to go away. Having unrealistic expectations will only frustrate you. Do your best to prepare for your trip in a way that is self-caring and keep a healthy routine of: eating, exercise, and sleep.”

Kate Goldhaber, a licensed clinical psychologist, said in an email that it’s important to be open to changes during travel. Life happens, but not always in the way that you plan for.

“When it’s necessary to adjust your plans, try to accept what is happening rather than focusing on what ‘should’ have happened,” Goldhaber said.

“For example, if you’re feeling tired and choose to sleep in rather than going to see a particular sight, appreciate that you had the opportunity to rest rather than beating yourself up for deviating from the plan.”

She added that no matter why you’re traveling, make sure to allow time just to take it all in and pause to enjoy life and memories. You can make traveling all about new experiences and intellectual stimulation, or you can let yourself fall prey to stress from overplanning pressure and homesickness.

Legge, Deborah. Email interview. July 8, 2013.

Goldhaber, Kate. Email interview. July 10, 2013.

Reviewed July 11, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.