If your mood has been a bit low or you’ve been feeling stressed, travel can be incredibly therapeutic and help in your recovery. Just a week or two away from the tedium of work can be uplifting and revitalizing. If all goes well you return home feeling healthy and invigorated, with new perspectives on those problems that had been troubling you.
However, if you have long-term depression, there are some complications you need to be aware of. The first of these, which I’ve come across on more than one occasion, is that travel is not in and of itself a treatment for depression. I know of people who desire to escape from it all in the hope that things will improve, only to come home worse than before. So what’s going on? Let’s examine the pros and cons.
The Fresh Start
If you’re stuck in a life that feels unfulfilling and stressful, with no prospect of positive change, then the notion of a fresh start is often very appealing. In principle, I would say there is nothing wrong with taking a trip as a way to kick-start an alternative lifestyle. It requires planning, of course, but if you feel your depression is stress-induced by work, then there’s every chance that a change may help. And travel may be the thing that breaks the chain. It’s a statement to yourself that things are going to change and it’s one way that travel can be hugely beneficial.
Travel as Therapy
People with depression travel all the time, whether for work or personal reasons. Depression isn’t a reason not to travel but with this comes a few words of caution: Depression goes with you. It doesn’t lift at the airport terminal and can even get worse.
If you’re not used to travel keep in mind that it can be tiring and stressful. Arriving in a new country is an adventure, but there may be language and cultural issues to address. Unfamiliar routines and a sense of isolation can lead to feelings of homesickness. Also, be aware that depending on where you are in the world, medical facilities may not be as available or as sophisticated as you might be used to.
Get it right, though, and travel can be very fulfilling. It’s a distraction, which helps depression, and the novelty value of new sights and sounds can be very rewarding.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
If you have long-term depression or a history of it, visit your doctor before you commit to a trip and talk things over. He or she may have a unique perspective on your situation based on your medical history.
If you take antidepressant medication make sure you bring enough with you for the entire trip. The very last thing you want to happen is to run out. Abrupt withdrawal of antidepressant medication can lead to unwanted and unpleasant side effects.
Use some self-compassion. As a person with depression there’s a very good chance you’ll feel fatigued or perhaps even irritated and indifferent during your travels. The fact that you’re not in awe of the sights in the way others appear to be doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy. Your depression will act to mask some of these experiences but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You may also find that some of the simplest things give you the most pleasure.
Stay clear of alcohol. It’s good to try new things but if that big glass of cheap booze is pressed into your hand on an outing, put it down. Alcohol is a depressant and the last thing you want is anything that adds to the problem.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.