How to Care for Your Mental Health on Vacation

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It sounds weird to think we need to pay attention to our mental health while on vacation. After all, there’s plenty of evidence showing vacations improve our mental health.

But when you go on vacation, you leave behind the comfort of a familiar environment, the support of a therapist, and the consistency of a routine. A vacation can actually trigger mental illness symptom flare ups, whether you’re traveling alone or with friends or family.

Here are some strategies you can use to stay mentally healthy on your next trip:

Take Care of Your Body

Exercise helps stave off mental illness symptoms. But it can be hard to make time for it while you’re on vacation.

If going to the gym is part of your normal routine, you can drop in to your hotel gym. Or if you belong to a chain gym, there are likely facilities all over the country you may be able to access for no extra fee.

The point isn’t to miss out on all the fun because you have to hit the gym, though. You can incorporate fitness into your vacation in more subtle ways, like by taking long walks through a new city or along the beach. The key is to stay moving.

You also leave behind your regular sleep routine when you go on vacation. A vacation is the time to catch up on rest and relaxation, but going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day (even if both are later than your usual routine) will definitely help keep you centered.

If you know drinking alcohol can trigger your depression or anxiety, order a virgin cocktail instead. You’ll feel just as fancy. I always go for a virgin Bloody Mary on flights.

Plan to Have Your Own Space

When you’re visiting family, it might seem convenient to stay in a guest bedroom. Despite being a “vacation,” it can get stressful when everyone is cooped up in the house together.

I recommend making space by staying in a hotel or Airbnb instead. Or if that doesn’t fit within your budget, you can combine exercise and getting some “space” by going for walks on your own when you need a breather. Don’t succumb to pressure or guilt to spend every moment with your relatives. Taking breaks is healthy.

Create a Loose Schedule for Family Members Who Like to Hijack the Trip

Planning activities ahead of time is a great way to prevent anyone — whether it be a controlling relative or friend — from hijacking your trip.

Everyone has different needs and expectations when it comes to a vacation. Some might want to go to a child-friendly restaurant, while others may want fancier cuisine. Discussing these types of plans ahead of time and finding a compromise can reduce stress and frustration.

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Meditate

Despite being a respite from your everyday, there’s a lot going on when you travel. Meditation will help you focus on the moment and prevent stressors like lost luggage, delayed flights, and misunderstandings from becoming overwhelming or overly frustrating. It’s also a great way to stay “grounded” during lift off if you have a fear of flying.

Meditation can seem complicated but is actually simple. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, come back to the breath.

There are countless guided meditation apps you can for free while on vacation. Simple Habit or 10% Happier are two I’ve used and can vouch for.

One of the best times for meditation is when you wake up because it sets the stage for an awesome day. Meditating in the morning can be easier because you haven’t been affected by the emotions of the day yet. I prefer meditating at night because it helps me sleep. Experiment to see what works best for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, check out these pieces as well:

Bring Something from Home

If you’re someone who suffers from anxiety when you fly, it might be helpful to bring along a small object you find soothing. Or it could be a calming scent like a small amount of scented oil (e.g. coconut oil).

Have a Plan for Contentious Topics of Conversation

You may be worried about visiting relatives who have strongly-held beliefs that don’t align with your own. Or perhaps, if traveling abroad, you’ll be meeting people from other countries who have negative opinions about your country. This is a common concern given today’s political climate. Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to prepare for and avoid these triggering conversations.

As Talkspace Staff Writer Joseph Rauch has stated in past posts, it can be good to remind yourself there’s more to relationships than politics (or whatever contentious topic you disagree on).

“When you care about someone, your relationship with them will go beyond politics,” he writes. “Political opinions are only a small part of who your family members are.”

In terms of handling negative sentiment against your country, you can also try to change the subject by asking questions and showing interest in the country you’re visiting instead. You don’t have to agree with what is said, but it’s best not to start an argument if it could escalate. It helps to be respectful of local customs and do your best to blend in.

Set a Budget

Prevent post-vacation blues by not putting yourself in debt during vacation. Set a budget and stick to it.

My favorite method is to only withdraw the cash I want to spend for the next week and not use credit cards to pay during that time. This works especially well if you’re abroad and want to minimize ATM withdrawal and credit card fees.

By following even one of these tips, you can maximize vacation fun and restore your mental health.

Try Online Therapy

Traveling can make it physically impossible to attend in-person therapy but, unfortunately, your mental health struggles don’t take a vacation when you do. If you face mental health challenges, being able to text your Talkspace therapist 24/7 offers the support you need no matter where you are in the world — whether mellowing out on the beach or getting extreme on top of the world.

By following even one of these tips, you can maximize vacation fun and restore your mental health.

Bio: Michelle is a freelance copywriter and content marketing strategist. She helps digital nomads find practical ways to achieve and navigate a location-independent lifestyle on her blog, Mishvo in Motion.

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Michelle Vogel

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