If there’s one thing we know for certain in these unreliable times, it’s that this summer is different to any we’ve experienced before. From distanced-camping to masked hotel staff, vacations in the time of corona are a new frontier fraught with ethical questions about your own safety and the safety of others.
With US states in various phases of reopening, and some now reclosing, it still may be possible to take a national vacation this summer. By taking the right precautions, you can make sure everyone is physically safe. But what about your wellbeing? Looking after your mental health on vacation is just as important as when you’re at home.
Take the Necessary Physical Precautions
In order to be able to take care of your mental health on vacation, you need to first make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay physically safe and healthy. Experts believe that it is possible to take a vacation right now, but there are many precautions and safety measures you need to take to ensure no one gets sick.
Saad B. Omer, an epidemiologist and director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told TODAY, “It’s OK to have fun, (but) do it safely. You just need to strike a balance.”
It’s crucial to carefully choose your destination and how you’re going to get there. Use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 tracker to monitor the spread of the virus. Also, if you’re from a state seeing a spike in infection rates, consider a stay-cation or limiting your travel to somewhere nearby. Remember, there are many ways to take a mental health vacation without going anywhere.
You should also check the travel restrictions and any lockdown rules that are in place where you’d like to go. As The New York Times reports, a third of states have placed restrictions on visitors, including mandatory testing and quarantining.
The CDC cautions that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick,” but its website offers a useful range of tips and considerations if you do plan to travel. These include maintaining physical distance from others and considering whether you might be in contact with vulnerable people during or after you return. Monitor the CDC website regularly for any updates.
The Great Outdoors Is Preferable
As a result, you may understandably be considering going camping or taking a road trip. But, as the CDC points out, “Going camping…can pose a risk to you if you come in close contact with others or share public facilities (like restrooms or picnic areas) at campsites or along the trails.”
As well as the physical distance inherent in outdoor adventures, there are additional benefits for your mental health. “Nature and historical places create feelings of well-being and comfort,” says Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings LCSW-S, CFTP.
When choosing where to visit, she suggests opting for “places that respect social distancing and limit the number of visitors. If a place is crowded, it may not be a good idea to be there. Be creative and look for another option.”
Communication Is Key When It Comes to Planning
There’s one factor that’s easy to overlook when planning a mentally healthy vacation during COVID-19, and that’s other people’s opinions. Planning a trip with family can be stressful at the best of times, never mind the added pressure of a global pandemic.
These days, everyone’s comfort levels are different: you might be fine with staying in a hotel, whereas your parents might have concerns about cleanliness. Open and honest communication is key.
Family therapist Marissa Moore told Conde Nast Traveler, “As we finally venture out, this is what everyone is navigating this coming summer. But it’s [still] a highly anxious time. Get orientated toward why this vacation matters to everyone [in your family].” Moore also suggested allocating dedicated time to discuss the vacation over video call, rather than texting. “When you ground the conversation in that, you have common ground to start on.”
She added that you should regularly check in with everyone in the run-up to the trip, giving all family members a chance to voice any concerns as, and when, they arise.
Prioritize Your Mental Well-being
It’s assumed that vacations are relaxing and restorative affairs, but for some of us they can be stressful and anxiety-ridden, and that’s when there’s not a deadly pandemic raging. It’s not a given that you’ll just automatically be able to shut off any worries — and this is especially true now.
“Taking a vacation during this unusual time can be relaxing for some and scary for others,” says Catchings. “However, if we know how to take care of our mental health, we can experience a more enjoyable vacation.”
So how do we prioritize our mental well-being? First, don’t neglect the basics. “Eat and sleep as needed but in moderation,” says Catchings. “When we take a trip, we tend to over indulge or forget [healthy habits]. Too much or too little of something is not always healthy.”
Also, remember to take part in activities you enjoy — if they can be done safely, of course! If you have a regular journaling practice, don’t neglect it during the trip; those habits that have been helpful to share and process emotions during the early stages of the pandemic will be equally beneficial on vacation.
Leave Your Worries At Home
Switching off is sometimes easier said than done. “Leave work, school, and family issues at home,” advises Catchings. “You are taking vacation time to relax or destress. If you think and worry about issues that do not pertain to you achieving those goals, you will not enjoy your time and will go back home feeling disappointed and tired.”
If you still find yourself ruminating or stressing, however, Catchings suggests asking yourself if thinking about the issues will actually “fix the problem; make it disappear; or make you enjoy your vacation more.” The answer is probably no and this rational insight can be very helpful in curbing worrisome thought patterns.
Catching has a solution, however. “Before leaving home, write down the things that worry you,” Catchings says. “Put it in an envelope or box and tell yourself that you are not taking any unwanted thoughts or issues with you. They will be there for you to work on them when you get back home.”
She adds: “Create a mantra that will remind you that you are free and in vacation mode.”
You can also do breathing exercises or meditation to soothe anxious thoughts.
Be Patient, Supportive, and Adaptable
It’s not just anxious thoughts that can be a cause of stress on vacation: it’s the people around us. Whether we’re hanging out with family or friends, situations can sometimes get tense when we’re spending so much time in each other’s company.
“Remember that not everyone thinks, feels, or acts like you,” says Catchings. “Be patient. Be supportive and understanding.”
While you should stay open to changing plans in order to make sure that everyone is happy — and most importantly healthy — this doesn’t mean that you come last. “Create and accept boundaries,” Catchings says.
Ultimately, you’re going to have to put in more work this year to achieve a vacation that’s both physically safe and mentally healthy. Check the CDC guidelines before you go, communicate openly with your fellow travelers, and prioritize the well-being of yourself and your loved ones while on the trip.