For those with depression, travelling can feel like a fantastic opportunity to feel better. A chance to get a new perspective on life, step out from your comfort zone and feel rejuvenated. While travelling can help you feel all these things, don’t believe that it can be a miracle cure. Sadly depression doesn’t get the memo that it didn’t get the invite for your trip!
Stepping out of the mundane daily stress life can help to break the cycle of depression but be realistic that your depression isn’t going to stay at home. Be prepared that an episode may strike and it’s ok if it does. Your depression (or any other mental or physical condition) does not define you, and it is beyond your control. As much as we wish there were a switch, there isn’t.
So many people feel guilty that they feel depressed on such an incredible trip or in a fantastic place. If I can’t feel ’happy’ here, will I ever think that way? Guilt is a sneaky bitch and plays into the hands of depression, feeding on a sense of self-doubt and low self-esteem. What a fun party!
Fears of what will happen with depression and a sense of wanting to be ‘strong and fearless’ can be a problematic combination of feelings to manage. Trying to remain calm and in control somewhere that is new and intimidating can cause everything to spiral out of control. We can feel defeated that our mental health is beating us into submission. We can be disappointed that we weren’t stronger.
Here are some tips to manage depression when you are travelling:
Know Your Options
Realistically what are your options for travelling? What places are entirely off limits because of your health? What are the best communities to get to know and integrate with? Is language or distance an issue? What are the options for getting a quick flight home if you need to?
Manage Your Medications and Treatments
Do you have enough medication for your trip? Can you take your medicines through customs or do you require paperwork from your doctor? Are there online services for councillors that you can use? Can you practice mindfulness or similar techniques while you are away? Just because you are travelling does not mean that all the treatment and hard work you are putting into your treatment should stop, but make contingencies.
Be Realistic and Patient
Be understanding of yourself that some things are outside of your control and it is possible that things are going to go wrong on trips and it is something that just happens! I am ridiculously forgetful and misplace stuff all the time, especially tickets (always helpful!) I now prepare myself and am patient. It is one of my many quirks, and I just have to accept that I am probably going to misplace something, but it’s ok. I now have a particular travel wallet to store everything in which reduces this likelihood. Understand what may trigger a low mood and try to make alternative arrangements.
Give It A Rest
The excitement of seeing a new place and sense of guilt for not wanting to do EVERYTHING can be pretty overwhelming. When planning a wonderous travel itinerary leave yourself a rest day here or there, so if you don’t feel like going out an doing something, you don’t feel like you have wrecked your itinerary.
Eat and Drink
Make sure you eat well and stay hydrated when travelling. We can get caught up in a place and realise that we missed lunch two hours ago! I know that when I am hungry, I get hangry (hunger-induced anger) and can get pretty emotional so best to look after yourself to make sure you get the food you need. Being dehydrated can make you feel quite tired, so take some water with you to keep fresh.
Call It A Day
If you feel exhausted and drained, it’s alright to have an early night. Depending on where you are staying you can have a beautiful hot bath, order room service and watch Netflix. Give yourself some downtime.
Sometimes our budget doesn’t allow for staying in hotels, and we are backpacking. If this happens and you are feeling shitty, I would advise having an emergency fund. To do something for you, whether it’s a spa treatment, a night in a hotel or a nice dinner.
So many people speak of the benefits of journalling in coping with depression. By making a note of your thoughts and feelings, what you are happy and grateful for can promote positive thoughts and behaviours. Whether it is only a few minutes in the morning or at the end of the day, it is a constructive habit. If opening yourself up emotionally seems a bit too daunting, then there are other ways to journal to look back on your trip positively on.
We naturally have a fight or flight response, and the thought of getting away from an unpleasant situation can seem like the perfect solution. Travelling spontaneously to flee a negative place can have ramifications upon your return. The moment you switch your phone on and see all the emails or the dread of going back to a mountain of work. Urghh.
Planning your trip well in advance can help to manage your symptoms. Informing and preparing your support network in advance, will help to cope when you arrive home. Ensuring a supportive workplace and efficient handover so that your work will not be all left for you to get back. Setting clear boundaries about who should contact you and when.
Know You Are Not Alone
There are so many people going through the same things as you and struggling to find the words or way in which to say it. One of my friends disclosed to me about her mental health condition on a trip. I honestly had no idea after knowing her for a really long time, and it was the circumstances that let the conversation naturally happen. It is hard though to disclose this sort of information to a complete stranger!
If you are struggling, think about joining a tour group for a day trip to give you people to connect with, or talk to your local bartender to direct you to friendly locals or events that are happening. Or just sitting somewhere public to just listen to the hustle and bustle of the surrounding location.
Don’t Lose Touch With Home
Just because you are travelling does not mean that you need to forget about home or that phoning home is a sign of weakness. Message your Mum, or facetime your best mate. You are still you, wherever you are in the world and you need your support network around you to support you, so stay in touch with them. They will appreciate it as much as you will.
Celebrate Small Wins
Something I find that I always forget to do is to celebrate the small victories! Whether it is getting out of bed at a specific time, not eating all the chocolate that you can carry back from the corner store, going through a whole day with feeling like a mess… Whatever it is, appreciate it and celebrate it, you are doing great!
Connect With Nature
If you can get outside and connect with nature, this can have substantial benefits. An extensive literature review found that those with access to nature and greener environments had increases in their mental wellbeing. So go and feel the grass or sand between your toes, breathe deep the fresh air and feel the sun or wind on your skin.
It is OK To Not Be OK
The most important take-home message that it is OK not to feel ok. Don’t feel guilt and disappointment that you need to have a lazy day at the beach or you can’t even leave your hotel room. If you acknowledge that this is you taking control of your own mental health and that it is favourable to take this time.
This list is not endless, and these tips are not a solution for everyone as there are so many types of depression and depressive disorder. Just know that it is ok, whatever you are doing, it’s ok.
Are there any tips you would recommend?