October 10th, 2019 was World Mental Health Day. This year WMH Day was dedicated to highlighting the issues connecting mental health and suicide, accompanied by the grim strapline ‘Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide’.

Mental health is a very fragile thing. Unfortunately, it has also long been a taboo subject, rarely spoken of in public, and even more rarely by men.

Thankfully, times and the stigma attached to mental health issues are changing. Plus, treatment of depression and general mental health issues have improved greatly.

Although not a medical science it has been proven that travel can be highly beneficial in maintaining a good mental health balance in a number of ways.

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Authentic experiences can help

Sometimes it might seem that your life is going nowhere fast, that you are stuck in a rut, or that you are on an endless treadmill with no hope of escape. 

These can be the initial signs that mental health problems may be right around the corner. However, they may also be the less worrying signs of a life in need of change.

Travel is one way in which these early warning signs might be addressed – however, be aware that more serious events like anxiety disorders may need to be referred to the expertise of a medical professional.

Travel, and most especially experiential travel – such as travels and adventures in nature – can benefit both our mental and physical wellbeing.

Here are just a few ways how travel can benefit all aspects of your health.

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Making a plan

Even the mere idea of considering, or discussing future travel plans can have the instant effect of creating a mood of positivity in our brains. What we may simply think of as ‘looking forward to something’ can in fact be enough to increase our feelings of overall happiness.

According to one academic study, ‘Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having)’. The findings go on to say, ‘… studies demonstrate that people derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases and that waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good’.

We all use the common expression, ‘I can’t wait to…’, daily proof that the anticipation of travel, or some other experience, acts as a positive emotion and helps to keep our mental health condition in balance.

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Opening the stress valve

The stress of everyday living can frequently act as a blindfold, blocking out the important things in our lives. Travel can act as the fingers which untangle the knot of this blindfold and open our eyes to new experiences, new peoples, new cultures, and new ways of seeing at the world around us.

Traveling freely without the worry of the conditions that affect our daily lives – schedules, projects, relationships, and other factors that may add to our stress levels – can in effect help to reset our minds back to zero.

For a traveler suffering from the symptoms of stress the destination might not be a major concern, it may be the fact of escaping the familiar that will be enough to provide a positive benefit.

Another bonus recognized by many travelers is the process of learning how to relax and let go of the things which bind us in the now. Learning how to relax, both physically and mentally, is vitally important to the nurturing of a balanced state of sound mental health.

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Getting to know yourself better

Experiential travels, like Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago, can often help introduce the traveler to themselves.

That may sound like an unusual thing to say but days spent on a solitary or shared journey can sometimes offer greater personal insights than five years of talking. The lessons learned from the personal tests associated with a physical journey can act as a coat of armor once the journey is over.

On long journeys, we are exposed to learning lessons about ourselves – sometimes these are lessons we may not particularly like. But opening the mind to these lessons can enable change for the better.

Plus, experiential travels can help the traveler to re-assess, and possibly even reinvent themselves. It’s often said travel expands your horizons, in this case, those horizons are not limited to the mere physical world.

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Growing your confidence

It might not sound like the greatest achievement in the world, but something as simple as going through the process of boarding a plane and flying to an unfamiliar destination can reward the traveler with a new surge of confidence.

Travel always has the possibility of throwing the traveler into unfamiliar situations. Managing and overcoming these new situations all add up to increasing our ability to handle future stressful and uncomfortable situations.

How you manage these unfamiliars can be the catalyst for a healthy increase in confidence and act as a boost to a balanced state of mental health.

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Coming home from your travels

The lessons, feelings, and emotions you experienced on your travels can provide you with a safe refuge once you return home to the familiar.

You might have learned to embrace your creativity and channeling that new-found creativity might be a new source of finding a peaceful place in your life. 

Or, you may have realized that communicating with strangers in unfamiliar surroundings might not have proved as difficult as you had imagined.

Plus, post-travels, you are armed with a whole host of new experiences that can be recaptured and reused as memories, stories, or even as the source of new projects. Volunteering, activism, writing, working for issues that affected you on your travels can all be sources of positive mental projection. Or perhaps you could become involved with support groups or raising awareness for others struggling with mental health issues.

Even something as simple as discovering a new taste can be your guide to a new passion for cookery or food appreciation. In short, you may return from your travels with the same physical luggage, but you are armed with a whole new set of experiences.

Try to use these new experiences to your advantage. 

Be imaginative, be creative, be kind to yourself, and when you do that, perhaps it’s time to start planning your next journey.