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The Mental Health Benefits From Travel

By: @ericabassotherapy

We can all probably recall that moment when you’re finally feeling relaxed on vacation and you hear yourself expressing, “I need to do this more often!”. Despite the research that supports the mental health benefits of taking regular vacations and traveling, it’s been found that a significant number of American workers don’t take all of their allocated vacation time. Taking regular vacations is important for mental health, productivity, and overall well-being although the U.S. Travel Association found in their 2019 survey that 28% of American workers didn't use all of their vacation days and in 2018 55% of Americans didn't use all of their vacation time.

There are many reasons why individuals wouldn’t use these benefits, including concerns about falling behind at work, financial constraints, and cultural norms that discourage taking time off. Perhaps you also work in an industry with “unlimited PTO” but if you take any you may fear it will impact your career trajectory. I work with high-achieving women who commonly report in therapy that these reasons are among their concerns for not taking time away from work and the daily grind of life.

In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s dive into some of the mental health benefits of travel. This article may just be the reminder you need to finally take that well-deserved PTO.

Emotional Agility

Enhanced emotional agility is being able to navigate one's inner experiences (thoughts, feelings, and values) with flexibility and adaptability. It involves being able to recognize and accept one's emotions, even the uncomfortable ones, while also being able to respond to them in a way that aligns with one's values and goals. As a therapist, this is the ultimate goal of therapy (especially for serious mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression). Traveling in a foreign place allows ample opportunities to overcome obstacles and become more tolerant of one’s discomfort, resulting in increased confidence that one can handle many different situations. 

Increased Creativity 

Exposure to new environments, cultures, and experiences can stimulate the mind and inspire new ways of thinking and being. The more a person is open to being immersed in a foreign environment the higher the likelihood that said travel will result in increased creativity. One study found that greater exposure to other cultures through travel - like studying other languages, making international friends, and consuming the culture’s music and food - is linked to unconventional problem-solving.

Increased Empathy

Travel fosters empathy by expanding our understanding of the world, challenges stereotypes, and provides opportunities for cultural immersion and connection with people from diverse backgrounds. Studies show people who travel to more countries develop greater tolerance and trust in strangers, which alters their attitudes toward colleagues and friends back home. Personally, witnessing our shared humanity while traveling does a lot for me. Recognizing that despite language barriers and cultural norms we all want the same things and experience the same emotions, supports feelings of connection and oneness with others. 

Travel expands the mind, and if it’s a foreign country, it’s unlikely you’ll return to the same person you were before. Shifting out of autopilot and witnessing ourselves navigate our feelings of discomfort in different situations allows for increased self-confidence. Exposure to new ways of living allows us a perspective shift, which can inspire new ways of thinking and being back home and can promote more empathy for ourselves and others. These are all foundations of good mental health. 

Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing statewide in California. She helps high-achieving women to overcoming anxiety, perfectionism, relationship challenges and more. To learn more about working with her, visit www.ericabassotherapy.com.

References:
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1470595812452633

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550613514456

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735810000413

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0261517714000685

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-03389-003

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