The Importance of Travel and Mental Health by Tabitha James

Let’s face it; life is demanding – work, family, bills, organizational commitments, social life (ha) – we spend a lot of time doing “the things.” Our personal wellness and mental health often fall victim to neglect as we focus on getting “the things” done and maintaining the moving parts of life. For many, the thought of travel is a luxury, an illusion that time away from “the things” will be relaxing and refreshing; however, the lingering notion that there is no time for vacation haunts the mind.

Did You Know? America is one of six countries that does NOT mandate vacation time for employees. This leads to many employees opting to “cash-in” vacation days without actually taking a break from “the things.” Austria, Finland, the UK, and Kuwait top the charts with twenty-five to thirty mandated vacation days. So What Does This Mean? You, my friend, need a vacation! Travel helps to reduce stress, aids in the calming of the mind, and allows for exposure.

Though there isn’t a plethora of research on travel and mental health, psychiatrists and mind-body experts have noted that travel is absolutely good for mental health. Now let me warn you, I have a few rules or, may I say, suggestions to ensure your travel is helpful to mental health. Organizers and ultimate planners have the ability to overstress often and over plan trips as opposed to going with the natural flow of things. I AM GUILTY! I was known to plan every minute of trips from the lodging to where we would eat and all the activities (yes, by time). This is NOT healthy; it’s routine, somewhat like the life you’re vacationing from; not good!

Here are a few ways to travel and ensure it’s beneficial to your well-being and mental health:

  • Turn the Notifications Off – Your brain literally needs a BREAK! No alarms, no email dings, or text message alerts. If it is required, set some time to check your notifications but DO NOT spend a substantial amount of time on your phone, tablet, or laptop.
  • Engage in Newness – Try a new dish at the local restaurant, take a walk on the wild side and do something you’ve never done, and don’t be afraid to embrace challenges. The renewed exposure is great for your mind.
  • Human Interaction, Yes, People – Often times in our busy lives, we neglect genuine and purposeful interactions with others. According to Dr. John Denniger, Director of Research for the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, travel gives couples, families, groups of friends, and even people who meet as strangers an opportunity to connect over new experiences. That is incredibly important to mental health.
  • Physical Activity – Physical activity improves our mood, which is directly related to our mental health. Though all vacations don’t include hikes or other extreme activities, during travel, we tend to walk more as we are going out to do things. Without the madness of our daily schedules, it is often easier to work in a morning or evening workout.

As we embark on the second half of 2018, I challenge you to plan the trip, use those vacation days. If you’re self-employed, build in the time to travel. Your mind needs you, and your body will thank you for the break. Even though we may have days off, travel is necessary to get away from our “norm” and embrace something fresh, something different. Traveling has the power to alleviate some of the stress, drive out the dumps of depression, and balance anxiety. Before you burn out, breakout — take the trip & enjoy!


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