Not every trip away from home is a vacation.
Even when it is a vacation, vacations have its ups and downs, highs and lows. I’ve lost track of how many of my clients, past and present, have mentioned the stress of preparing to get on a plane and be away from home, work, and routine, even though the point of their travel was to relax, unwind, recreate, and connect with their partner and family members.
As we enter the season of the Holiday Triad in America (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day), here are some thoughts on how you can take care of your mental health concerns while traveling.
1. Don’t pitch your routine. If something has been working for you, such as taking medicine at a specific time, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol or sweets, imagine what the stress of travel, whether for business or personal matters, might do to you body and mind. If that morning run needs to get moved to another time of day, that’s fine. Yet your body may grumble at you if you withhold something it has become accustomed to for days or weeks on end. Set a reasonable routine and stick to it.
2. Digital connection, but not all the time. You’re on a beach, watching the sunset while your bare feet rest in the sand. Is this the best time to bury your face in a smartphone, tablet, or computer? Keep in mind your purpose for travel. If it’s business, take care of business in an appropriate environment, and do your best to carve out private, uninterrupted time for you to enjoy the beach, trails, mountains, and ocean without being chained to your work. Your brain will thank you.
3. Rejuvenation, customized to you. Understand what helps you rejuvenate, whatever the purposes of your trip. If a business trip has back-to-back meetings during the day, it might not make sense to squeeze another event that goes late into the night. If you must give some face time at an optional happy hour that actually isn’t optional, come in with a game plan so you won’t walk away hung over, exhausted, and set up for poor night of sleep. Take advantage of hotel spa massages, a relaxing yoga class, nearby walking paths, and quiet time before bed.
4. If your travel time is lengthy, consider scheduling a telemedicine session (also known as online counseling) with your therapist. As long as you are not in a state that has state laws barring online counseling from a therapist across state lines, this may help keep you on track for taking care of your mental health needs during extended travel. If you can’t take advantage of an online session, ask your therapist to give you some structured homework that could help you while you’re on the road.
5. If you are traveling by yourself, schedule in meaningful social time. Dinners by yourself can feel isolating. Try booking a meal somewhere that hosts a community dinner or themed dinner, where diners share conversation while eating an interesting meal. Sign up for an activity you are interested in where you can be in a group of tourists, such as a trail hike, a boat or kayak trip, or a museum tour. When attending a conference, ask others if they’d like to join you for a meal.*
If it’s not possible to meet with others, arrange to talk with friend or loved one over the phone while you are having a meal. Do your best to replicate social stimulation and connection, while diminishing a sense of loneliness or isolation. If a time change makes this scenario unlikely, try taking your meals in a busy restaurant, and opt to eat by the windows to get natural lighting during the day as well as to take in any views.
For those who travel often, the romance and glamour of travel can hide the challenges of the navigating airports, staying in hotels, and trying to get your needs met. You’re certainly not alone if travel increases your experience of depression or anxiety, or a mix of both. Let friends and family know about your struggles, and make these struggles a part of your conversation with your therapist.
As a reminder, the SDC virtual office will be closed Dec. 23 2019 through January 12 2020 for the winter holidays. If you are thinking of starting counseling for the first time with us, this is a great time to get things rolling. I encourage you to get started while it’s fresh on your mind, and to not put off for tomorrow what you can start today.
* Of course, I urge caution for safety reasons.