My Inner Suitcase: The Mental Health Benefits of Travel

My Inner Suitcase: The Mental Health Benefits of Travel
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The Mental Health Benefits of Travel 

As a reporter reaching out to mental health professionals for answers recently noted, although travel is often viewed as a luxury and an indulgence, there seems to be mental health benefits. 

I very much agree with her. Traveling does make us feel better. What is it about travel that makes us feel so good? I think it’s a multi-layered answer:

What is it about travel that makes us feel so good?

Leisure, Rest and Relaxation

There are, of course, the indisputable benefits of leisure, rest, and relaxation. Our bodies and brains need to rest. We feel better when get that rejuvenating rest. 

But some travel isn’t restful. Some travel is very physical, such as hiking, mountain climbing, and camping. But it still makes us feel great. So what else is there?

Changing the Scenery: Opens the Mind

No matter what type of travel we are doing, we are more likely to connect to the present moment aka the “here and now.” This is mindfulness. We spend time when we travel, highly aware of our surroundings and the people around us. This heightened connection with our surroundings and external world, means we are getting out of our heads. 

This heightened connection with our surroundings and external world, means we are getting out of our heads. 

Many people do not spend much time in their daily lives practicing mindfulness. When we travel, many of us are much more mindfully aware of what is happening, in the here and now, rather than being caught up only, in our thoughts and emotions. 

That is not to say that we don’t do a lot of thinking when we travel. The change in scenery we experience when we travel stimulates the brain in a way that the scenes of everyday life usually do not. Our thoughts often grow and expand to thinking more of “endless possibilities,” as opposed to the inane thoughts and worries that usually occupy our minds.

Our thoughts often grow and expand to thinking more of “endless possibilities,” as opposed to the inane thoughts and worries that usually occupy our minds.

Connections Intensify

But it isn’t just the addition of new surroundings. It’s the absence of the old ones. With fewer physical and visual reminders of the tasks and stressors from everyday life surrounding us, we are more mentally and emotionally available to soak in our surroundings and connect with our traveling companions and/or those that we meet during our travels, as well as, ourselves. 

I believe that we connect more intensely with others and ourselves, when we travel, than we do in our day to day lives. There is simply more of ourselves to give: Many of us leave work life behind when we travel. We don’t have household chores to do and much of our to-do list simply cannot be accomplished while traveling. This is good. 

I believe that we connect more intensely with others and ourselves, when we travel, than we do in our day to day lives. 

There is simply more of ourselves to give.

We also are experiencing life more as we are having these present-moment experiences. The heightened awareness of our new experiences and surroundings, opens us to deeper-level connections as we share in this more intensely-felt reality. 

The heightened awareness of our new experiences and surroundings, opens us to deeper-level connections as we share in this more intensely-felt reality. 

The Reasons Not Traveling Now Is Particularly Difficult

I think the travel restrictions associated with COVID-19 are having a particularly big impact on our health and mental health because so many of us think of it as something that must be endured. 

The not knowing makes it harder. 

I also believe that not knowing when it will end is very difficult. If we knew, for example, that on February 22, 2021 all would return to normal. That might be difficult to accept, but we could plan for life opening up starting on February 23, 2021. The truth, of course, is that we just don’t know. The not knowing makes it harder. 

While we can’t do anything about the uncertainty of when things will permanently open back up, we can shift our mindset.  As I wrote above, so many think of this time period as something that must be endured. 

I encourage my clients to try to think of this period as a hidden opportunity.

Many of us are “killing time” to get through the work day. I advise my clients to try to think of this period, as a hidden opportunity. I encourage them to find the things that give their lives meaning and discover ways to gain a similar satisfaction in their current circumstances.

It isn’t that it is so impossible. Rather, it requires a shift in thinking and some creativity. Many of my clients are learning a new hobby, taking livestream yoga classes, and having coffee breaks with colleagues online. 

Rather, it requires a shift in thinking and some creativity. 

Many of my clients are learning a new hobby, taking livestream yoga classes, and having coffee breaks with colleagues online. 

We simply need to think about what we feel is missing in our lives and what about it gives us satisfaction, then find ways to pursue similar avenues to meaning and enjoyment, within our current reality.

Enjoying the Benefits of Travel Without Leaving Home

Connecting with Nature

Nature is a fantastic way to get present. If you are lucky enough to have a yard, or have access to a natural area, beach, or park that isn’t over-crowded, you can sit, walk, or swim, paying close attention to all you hear, see, feel, smell, and touch. 

If you are lucky enough to have a yard, or have access to a natural area, beach, or park that isn’t over-crowded, you can sit, walk, or swim, paying close attention to all you hear, see, feel, smell, and touch. 

However, assuming you don’t have access to a nice big yard or an uncrowded natural area, what do you do then? 

Mindfulness In Daily Living

I think it all depends upon your environment. Some people may live in an apartment but have a small balcony where they can sit and feel the sun, or the breeze, if they are really lucky, they can hear and see birds and other animals. 

Contacting the present moment, as it is sometimes called in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, the type of therapy I practice, includes paying close attention to the world around you (as well as, your inner world). 

You can have a cup of tea and really pay attention to the warmth of the cup in your hands, the aroma of the tea, see the steam and notice how it feels and tastes, in your mouth, and as it goes down your throat. 

While nature is one of my favorite ways to contact the present moment, it can be done in many aspects of daily living. You can have a cup of tea and really pay attention to the warmth of the cup in your hands, the aroma of the tea, see the steam and notice how it feels and tastes, in your mouth, and as it goes down your throat. 

There are lots of little contacting-the-present-moment experiences that can connect you with the here and now, similar to the way travel does. 

Rest, Relaxation and Leisure

Taking time to rest and relax even in a COVID world is also important: 

  • Warm baths
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massages With Your Partner
  • Dance 
  • Music
  • Meditation
  • New Cuisine
  • Fancy Drinks
  • Change Up the Way You Normally Do Things

Taking warm baths, using aroma therapy with essential oils, and giving massages to your partner and the allowing them to reciprocate, are all things that can help with rest and relaxation. Meditate. Dance. Listen to new music. Learn a new dance with or without a partner, or simply just dance! Try new foods. Get exotic with your blender and make fancy drinks. Change the hand you hold a fork with. All the different ways we can add novelty to our lives will give us glimpses of the things we love about traveling.

All the different ways we can add novelty to our lives will give us glimpses of the things we love about traveling. 

Connect More Deeply With People and Surroundings 

Connecting more intensely with those in your current life can also replicate those intense connections we experience while traveling. If you live with a partner, practice just looking deeply at their face. Really study it. Note how it moves. How it shows pleasure or worry. Really look into their eyes. Try to have a here and now experience with them. Look at them as if you’re seeing them for the first time. Pay close attention to how their hand feels in yours. etc. Try to experience them, as if it’s for the first time. 

Practice just looking deeply at their face. 

Really study it. 

Note how it moves.

How it shows pleasure or worry. 

Really look into their eyes. 

Try to have a here and now experience with them. 

Look at them as if you’re seeing them for the first time. 

Pay close attention to how their hand feels in yours. etc. 

Try to experience them, as if it’s for the first time. 

If you live alone, really look at things as if seeing them for the first time: Notice the way the sunlight dances on a wall. Listen as hard as you can to all the different sounds you can hear. You will be amazed at all the sounds we normally just filter out. Also, really notice the way your body feels in a chair or as you move it, walking, dancing, swimming etc. These are ways to experience mindfulness and see the mundane and ordinary, in new and extraordinary ways. 

Notice the way the sunlight dances on a wall. 

Listen as hard as you can to all the different sounds you can hear. You will be amazed at all the sounds we normally just filter out.

Also, really notice the way your body feels in a chair, or as you move it, walking, dancing, swimming etc. 

These are ways to experience mindfulness and see the mundane and ordinary, in new and extraordinary ways. 

Conclusion

We may not be able to easily pack a bag and fly off to Paris, however we can see, feel, hear, taste and touch the ordinary through a new and more mindful lens. 

We can connect more deeply and intensely with people right here at home. 

And we can pursue those things that give us joy and satisfaction right from our very own living rooms. 

While I can’t wait to catch the next flight out and see the world beyond, I know there are other ways right here, right now to enjoy the benefits of travel in my own little corner of the world. I hope you can experience some of them as well.

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