Vacation is supposed to be the antidote to stress, right? Right! But travel anxiety is a real thing, and if you’re not careful, the vacation itself can become an additional source of stress. This is true for everyone, but particularly for those who suffer from a mental health disorder. Not only does being away from home disrupt your routine, but the uncertainty and stress associated with travel can also trigger unwanted symptoms. The good news is that there are some things you can do to help ensure that your next vacation is a boost to your wellbeing, rather than a drain. Take a look below at the following 10 mental health tips while on vacation.
#1. Plan ahead
Booking flights and hotel rooms in advance can help significantly reduce travel stress. It’s also a good idea to plan some of your activities before you leave home. Tickets purchased online can not only save you time and money, but also provide a little bit of structure to your trip. Be careful not to overdo it though. (See tips #4 and #5).
#2. Use a packing list
A week or so before you leave, start creating a packing list of things you know you’ll want with you while you’re away from home. As your trip approaches, more items will come to mind: medications, a special pillow, your favorite yoga DVD. Just add each item to the list as you think of it, and by the time you’re ready to pack, you’ll know exactly what to bring. The peace of mind that comes from knowing you have your phone charger while you travel is worth the extra effort it takes to make the list.
#3. Splurge on comfort and relaxation
While you may be tempted to skimp on your hotel room in order to have more money for fun activities, the upgraded suite can enhance your vacation by giving everyone a little more space and comfort during downtime. Additionally, if the suite has a kitchenette, or the hotel offers free breakfast, it eliminates the need to figure out where to eat every single meal. Other splurges that may positively impact your mental health while traveling include: massage treatments, a private tour-guide, a comfortable rental car.
#4. Give yourself extra time for everything
Everyone who sits at their work desk dreaming of vacation is dreaming of the same thing: time. No matter where you’re planning to travel, the whole point of taking a vacation is having the time to do what you want. And yet, so often, we pack our vacations with back-to-back activities so that rather than relieving our stress, we add to it. Plan extra time between activities, and give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy yourself. And remember, your vacation starts the minute you leave home, so give yourself extra time to get through security and shop for magazines at the airport.
#5. Plan for a flexible routine
Routines help anchor us to the things that keep us healthy and feeling good, such as getting enough sleep and eating regular meals. While planning your travel, make sure you include ample time for sleep and for sitting down to eat your meals. But plan to remain flexible about that routine so that your wellbeing is not disrupted when the unexpected happens, as it often does on vacation. Your willingness and ability to set a new course when necessary may even lead to unforeseen pleasures.
#6. Prioritize exercise
Regular exercise is an important part of mental health and wellness. While you may not be able to get your full gym routine in every day of your vacation, there are ways to keep your body moving. Bring your yoga DVD or exercise bands for a mini workout in the hotel room. Participate in a walking food or history tour. Climb stairs instead of taking elevators. Plan some active outdoor activities like snorkeling or playing Frisbee on the beach.
#7. Eat healthy
The food you eat has a direct relationship to your brain function and mood. Diets high in refined sugar disrupt your body’s regulation of insulin, trigger inflammation, and can result in feelings of irritability and depression. High quality, nutrient rich foods nourish your brain and support your overall wellbeing. While traveling, it’s important to maintain a well-balanced diet in order to stay mentally and physically healthy. Eat as many colors of the rainbow as you can every day to ensure that you’re getting a range of nutrients. And snack on slow-release energy foods, such as protein, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, in order to avoid crashing between meals.
#8. Make a phone appointment with your therapist
While you may not feel the need to talk with your therapist while you’re on vacation, it doesn’t hurt to schedule a check-in call. Just knowing you have someone to talk to if you need to sort through unexpected emotions while you’re traveling can help you feel anchored to your support network. Even if you’re having a great time and aren’t struggling with anything you need help with, you may benefit from just sharing your positive experience. Remember, therapists love to know when things are going well, too.
#9. Avoid your triggers
If you have a history of mental illness or substance abuse, consider the things that typically trigger your symptoms or your desire to use—and avoid them. This may mean staying out of the hotel bar, refraining from calling on old friends, or avoiding crowded places. Be aware that others you are traveling with may not understand why you’re not joining them in certain activities. Take special care to stand by your decision. And then, rather than sitting in the hotel room alone (unless that’s what you want), plan to do some other pleasurable activity on your own so that you don’t feel left out.
#10. Spend time in nature
Studies have shown that contact with nature decreases stress, anxiety, and depression and provides us with feelings of calm and wellbeing. While you’re on vacation, plan to visit parks, gardens, ski resorts, beaches, or anywhere else you can engage with the natural world. Not only does the time spent outdoors promote feelings of contentment, but it can also help nurture connection with your travel companions—as long as everyone puts down their phones.
When a vacation is not enough, seek mental health treatment
If you’re having difficulty managing your level of stress, worry, depression, or anxiety as the holidays approach, consider seeking mental health treatment. At Alvarado Parkway Institute, we specialize in mental health services and programs tailored to each patient’s psychiatric needs. We offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment, and we’re dedicated to providing high quality compassionate care in a safe and culturally sensitive environment. If you need some extra help this holiday season, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the form on our website or call our 24-hour crisis line at 619-667-6125 today.