Hands up if you identify as an anxious person! Phew, not just me? Yay! And travel anxiety? Hello!
Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that not only do I have anxiety, but I’ve also had it for a long time. And not just any old anxiety, nope, not me. I always have to dream big, and somehow I managed to score the mental health trifecta: anxiety, severe social anxiety, and depression. Go me!
Moreover, I know I’m not alone. At least a quarter of the population here can relate. The awareness that comes from seeing your worries creep closer to the forefront of your mind is actually really powerful. Once you are conscious of these thoughts and feelings, they immediately lose their power over you.
The more I reflect on this as I put in the mental hard yards, the more I realize that there is one constant in my life that actually has really helped me combat my anxiety: travel.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, how do anxiety and travel go together in a way that’s positive? On the surface, you can easily think that travel is anxiety-inducing. And don’t get me wrong, it can be. Canceled flights, lost bags, food poisoning, crashing a scooter in Bali in front of a million people, etc. Sure. But those are ephemeral anxieties with easy solutions.
I’m talking about those bigger worries; will you get that job promotion? Will you finally meet your life partner? When will you buy a house? When you’re at home caught in the wheel of routine, it’s easy for thoughts like those to creep into your mind and keep you awake at night. I know they do for me.
And you know what pauses them (besides therapy and meds)? Travel.
For a long time, it’s been known that travel has been linked to stress reduction and can ease the niggly symptoms of anxiety and depression. And even though this is backed by science, we know that exploring new places, immersing yourself in new cultures, and learning new things have a noticeable, positive impact on your mental health. Travel is good for us, and we all know it intuitively.
How many people go to Italy on holiday and come back like, wow, that really messed me up, and I totally regret it? Um, not many.
There’s nothing quite like traveling to stimulate us mentally. And traveling regularly? Even better.
Getting out of your comfort zone, living within uncertainty, and letting go of worries to explore and learn are a few of the things travel guarantees. From teaching patience to emotional growth to empathy and happiness, the mental health benefits of getting out and seeing the world go far and wide. Not to mention traveling is an epic self-development opportunity.
Anxiety sits by the wayside as hopeful and happy feelings hit the main stage. From trying to order a coffee in French to getting lost in the back streets of Tokyo to making new friends with others on your Rome food tour, travel allows us to escape from the worries and cares of daily life at home and hit the reset button on our busy brains. The trick is to ensure we bring these lessons home with us afterward.
After sixteen years of traveling to nearly 100 countries, here are five ways travel has helped me tackle my anxiety – enjoy!
1. Travel takes you out of your head and can calm you
When it comes to overthinking, I am the queen. Getting lost in my thoughts is a well-worn path in my mind. Most of the time, it’s a good thing. I love being a deep thinker. It’s how I can write books and come up with creative stories. But it can be a pitfall too. Like how I laid awake all night on Monday thinking about my business.
The great thing about travel is it takes you straight out of your head and insists you focus on the present. You must focus and make decisions around entirely new experiences and situations. Do you stay another week in Thailand, or do you hop on over to Cambodia? You’re experiencing all new and exciting things. Travel is a fully immersive sensory experience. In fact, in some ways, it’s a form of escapism.
According to psychologist Dr. Michael Brein, “Travel escapism that invites you to increase your self-esteem and self-confidence…tends to ground you in the present and requires you to deal with virtually everything that is normally mindless back home.”
2. Travel helps relieve the stress of everyday life
Wake up. Coffee. Drive to work. Work. Go home. Tv. Bed. Repeat.
While I find a lot of comfort in routine and the daily life of the home, there is a lot of stress involved with work and living demands. The monotony can build up, stressing you out and building up all kinds of ugly feelings inside. It’s only natural you need a break, and god knows I know that feeling well. Burnout has been my longtime companion, and recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about how I could go away for a month or two on a real holiday (with no laptop, no emails, no phone, and absolutely no work).
It’s so easy to get caught up in work stress and the daily routines that we often forget or don’t have time to do the things that we actually love or that are meaningful to us because we need to clean the bathroom and do our taxes. But when you travel, you say goodbye to the daily grind. And the new experiences that come with it rewire your brain, boosting self-confidence.
Travel is a great way to reset yourself. Taking time off to travel is a great way to let all that stress, tension, and worry go. It also teaches us patience. Only then can you fully relax and recover. In fact, studies have shown that nearly 80% of people queried say that travel not only helps reduce stress, but it also improves their mood and outlook on life. Now that’s priceless, isn’t it?
3. Travel makes us happy
I’ve often said that you can’t be sad when traveling. And that travel is the best balm after a breakup or heartache. I know that’s a gross exaggeration, but I’m sticking by it. We all know travel makes us happy, and that’s why we go.
Faced with new places, faces, and experiences, your brain is full of travel. There’s not a lot of room for prolonged sorrow. Travel is a sensory overload in many ways, and it’s a great way to take your mind off unhappy things. You must live in the moment, and letting go of worries and anxieties is easy.
We know that buying experiences over objects makes us happy. Intuitively, we know that traveling makes us happy. You gain self-confidence by learning new things and operating in an uncertain environment. You likely spend less time online and more time in the present meeting new people. And when you return home from a trip, you bring those happy memories with you, which only get better and more cherished over time. I still talk about when I moved abroad to Spain in 2007 and how much that meant to me.
4. Your brain will function better with travel
By now, it should be no surprise that it is good for the old noggin. By immersing yourself in new experiences and cultures, your mind increases its ability to think deeper and jump around different ideas. I’ve not traveled anywhere that didn’t make me question my own beliefs and opinions, have you?
Renowned author Adam Galinsky comments, “Foreign experiences increase cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought.”
Travel and the new experiences that come with it are beneficial for boosting brain function and improving mental health. Chronic stress negatively impacts memory and your ability to perform well. Time off and traveling to a new place tend to increase productivity at work and help you focus more.
Here in New Zealand, I often escape to quiet little cabins by the sea to chill, read, hike, and relax. Even just a few days off in a different place doing different things allows me to return to writing with renewed energy.
5. Travel teaches new things and boosts creativity
As an adult who loves learning new things, it makes sense that I love to travel. What is travel if not a great teacher?
From learning to ride horses with the nomads in Mongolia to making $100 last for a month to tracking leopards in Sri Lanka to how to pour a good Rioja reserve red from a wineskin from several feet away to your mouth without spilling a drop, travel gives you an education no school can offer. It also teaches you resilience and to toughen up.
Getting out and exploring the world can boost your creativity. People who travel more can come up with diverse ideas. Jumping into new cultures, learning a new language, trying different food, and even making new friends have all been linked to better problem-solving skills and stimulating creativity in the brain.
Travel helps you see the world in a new way.
Has travel helped boost your mental health? Helped your anxiety? Where did you find the most surprising lessons? Share!