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The (Mental) Health Benefits of Traveling

Mental Health


Mental Health and Travel Graphic

We all deserve some time away from the hustle and bustle of life, don’t we? It’s a fact that hitting the road, taking flight, or sailing the seas to destinations known and unknown not only can enrich your life but also makes you healthier, in both mind and body.

“Traveling for pleasure can contribute to subjective well-being because people have more opportunities to detach from their work environment, to experience new things, and to control what they want to do during vacations,” says Paul Simeone, Ph.D., Vice President and Medical Director of Behavioral Health with Lee Health. “There’s ample research to support that positive travel experiences can make a person healthier, can strengthen their relationships, and benefits their overall wellness.”

Now that global travel restrictions have eased, getting a little time away – whether for a day, a week, or longer – from the routine of the pandemic life could do wonders for your mind and body.

Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend delaying travel if you are not fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, follow the CDC’s recommendations for people who are not fully vaccinated.

People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization can travel safely within the United States. If you are fully vaccinated, follow the CDC’s recommendations to protect others when you travel.

Travel may do a sleepless mind good

Are you not sleeping well? Skip the sleep aids and take a trip instead to reset your sleep internal sleep clock.

“Travel can help your sleep health if you’ve not been sleeping well,” says Simeone. “One in three American adults don’t get enough sleep. Poor sleep hygiene has been linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression. Getting away from your routine at home, even for a weekend, can help reset your sleep pattern by disrupting any habits that negatively affect your sleep quality.”

For instance, Simeone says that so many of us bring our smart devices into bed with us for that one last glimpse at a backlit screen before going to bed.

“Even a getaway just for a weekend where you’re in a different environment may help you relax enough to be able to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel rested upon waking,” Simeone says.

Travel reduces job burnout

Are you struggling to stay focused at work? Find yourself more motivated to stay in bed than to go to work? Congratulations—you’ve been profiled. A recent study reported more than half (52%) of respondents felt burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believed the feeling had worsened during the pandemic.

Excessive work, already a serious cultural problem prior to the pandemic, was intensified by the COVID-19 retreat from office to home, Simeone says. Schedules disappeared, boundaries blurred, and work suddenly became a 24/7 enterprise that knew no limits.

To make matters worse, he says, there was no change of scenery, no opportunity to depressurize by transfer to the sanctuaries of our commutes, whether they were by train, plane, bus or car. It became a ceaseless grind, exacerbated by loneliness and isolation.

“Travel, whether in the mind or in the world, expanded as a concept during this period, representing one of the few silver linings in the COVID cloud,” Simeone says. “We need travel to recharge, find meaning, cool our fevered brows. Paul Theroux, the brilliant and intrepid travel writer, put it best: ‘What draws me into a trip is a leap into the dark. You set out from home, and in the classic travel book, you go to an unknown place. You discover a different world, and you discover yourself.’ This is what we all need, so let’s get on the road, any road!”

Travel can lift your mood

Carly Simon sang about it 40 years ago, about how anticipation can be delicious. The positive feelings of anticipating and planning a trip, even if it’s next week or next month, can boost your happiness quotient, Simeone says.

“Travel planning provides an escape from tedious or mundane routines,” Simeone says. “The anticipation of a trip is as good, if not better, than the trip itself.”

So, if you find yourself in a rut personally or professionally, taking a break from your daily routine can be just the thing to break out of it. Seeing new sights, hearing new sounds, experiencing the new stimulate different parts of your brain and boost your mood.

Travel can lower the risk of depression

Millions of Americans regularly struggle with depression, no thanks to the pandemic, which has tripled the depression rate in the United States, according to a study of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Mental health experts say there’s research to support the link between travel and happiness. Some travelers may get a mood lift from having new and diverse experiences. A 2020 study published in the journal Nature found that people who see more changes in scenery day-to-day tend to be happier.

Another study found that women who vacation at least twice a year are less likely to suffer from depression and chronic stress than women who vacation less than once every two years.

If you’re able to travel, even if it’s for a few days and nearer to your home than you wish, just the act of planning and getting away—traveling—can lift your spirits, improve your sleep, reduce your stress, and, in short, improve you.

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