There are so many good reasons for people to travel, from experiencing new cultures to gaining perspective on life. In addition to giving their bodies some rest from the daily grind, traveling can also improve people’s mental health.
American culture glorifies work and leaves little room for exploration, curiosity, and living in the moment. But times of rest are essential for a healthy body and mind. Here are seven ways that travel can improve mental health.
Reduces stress levels
When people intentionally take a break from their usual routines, they can avoid normal stressors that disrupt calmness. Because travelers don’t have to be anywhere, interruptions can feel like new opportunities instead of inducing anxiety. While on vacation, people also have time to reflect instead of thinking about their next set of responsibilities.
During travel, daily goals change from the norm, and life feels more exciting. More than 80% of Americans report that they feel significantly less stress a few days into a vacation. Even busy travelers can feel a difference in their stress levels.
In the modern world, it’s easy to forget the close connection that humans have with nature. The human body is profoundly affected by its environment, and too much time away from nature leads to high levels of stress, increased rumination, and a loss of perspective.
People who travel spend more time outside than usual, enjoying scenery and breathing fresh air. Combined with more physical activity, this extended time in nature makes travelers feel mentally rested. Time spent in wilderness areas can be especially refreshing.
Many people today feel a constant sense of urgency. Although this feeling sometimes comes from a stressful schedule, it also causes people to feel stress even when there’s no good reason to. While on vacation, many travelers are able to eliminate hurry and instead experience the benefits of being more present.
So many Americans experience a daily sense of urgency that the phenomenon has been named ‘hurry sickness’. In addition to raising cortisol levels, hurry sickness reduces empathy and disconnects people from their surroundings. Travel provides the perfect opportunity to slow down and take stock of each moment instead of living in a constant state of stress.
Whether individuals are touring a big city or visiting the wilderness, experiencing new places often fills people with a sense of awe. During daily life, many people are too distracted to notice the moments of beauty happening around them. However, travel offers the perfect opportunity for people to pay full attention to their surroundings.
Similar to gratitude, awe has amazing benefits for people’s mental health. It makes them feel happier, increases empathy and encourages humility. It also suppresses materialism and boosts overall brain health. In addition to sparking awe during a holiday, travel can also teach people the value of practicing awe in their daily lives.
Visiting new places and being exposed to diverse cultures enhances the brain’s ability to integrate new ideas. Studies have shown that people who travel are more creative at work and develop better problem-solving skills. Rest and a reduction in stress also support the brain’s ability to think creatively.
Even travel that’s stressful can increase resilience in the human brain. For example, experiencing new cultures can be bewildering, disorienting, and initially stressful. Through these experiences, however, people learn to adapt to new situations with more flexibility and lower levels of stress.
Because it exposes people to new cultures and ideas, travel can also improve emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, refers to a person’s ability to understand and regulate their emotions. People with a high EQ are more understanding toward themselves and others.
Although cultures vary around the globe, each one is made up of humans who are essentially all very much alike. The more people travel, the better understanding they can gain of what it means to be human and how to relate to people who are different from themselves.
Traveling can also boost people’s sense of self-esteem. Individuals face a variety of new, challenging situations when they travel. Visiting an unfamiliar place pushes travelers out of their comfort zone, causing many people to feel an intimidating sense of uncertainty.
When a person is doing something for the first time, there’s no way to do it perfectly. Travel defeats perfectionism by teaching people that personal growth comes through showing up and trying, and they’re more than up for the task. People who build confidence while traveling take new levels of self-esteem back to everyday life.
Holiday is calling
Based on this evidence, travel is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. Whether people plan an extensive international trip or hit the nearest beach, it’s high time that more people invested in their mental health with a vacation.
The mental benefits people receive from taking time away boost their productivity and increase their satisfaction with routine life. The time they spend to explore a new place, slow down a bit, and experience awe is well worth it.
Ginger Abbot has written for The National Alliance for Mental Illness, HerCampus, Motherly, and more. When she’s not freelancing, she works as chief editor for the learning publication Classrooms, where you can read more of her work.
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