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Caring for Your Mental Health While Traveling

When we are traveling, it is easy to get out of our normal routines, and with mental health issues, it can be devastating in some ways.

When I have traveled across time zones, I can get really jet-lagged and it is making my anxiety spike. Taking my medications at different times seems to be taking a toll. As has getting out of my usual routine.

I depend on my routines to maintain my mental health.

Things like starting the day with yoga and journaling are easy to let go by the wayside when you are out of your routine, but so important for your mental health.

According to Metro,

According to Dr. Victor Thompson, a clinical psychologist at the London Psychology Clinic, there are two main theories as to why jet lag can bring out or worsen symptoms of mental illness.‘The first is that travel across multiple time zones has an impact on our circadian rhythms our internal body clock,’ Victor tells ‘When we arrive in a different time zone, we are exposed to daylight, we eat and go to bed at a different time to what we would have in the time zone that we left (where our flights started).‘This all gives feedback to our body clock on what time it is now, which takes some adjusting by the body and brain. While doing so, things can feel quite odd.‘The second reason is that travel is usually quite a stressful experience — the queues, the crowds, worries about delays, being packed into the airplane, immigration checks, luggage concerns, with many things being outside of our control.‘The combined effect of disrupted body clock and stressful experience can be a risk factor for mild, or not-so-mild anxiety, depression and more serious mental illness.’Add in the disruption to your sleep, and you’re at an increased risk of feeling mentally unwell. Poor or little sleep increases the release of stress hormone cortisol, which can in turn trigger mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, and OCD.

It is important to be aware of the mental health consequences of travel, and be extra gentle with yourself as you ease into the new time zone.

When we moved to Germany, the first couple nights found me up with my five-year-old in the middle of the night. The 8-hour time difference from the US to Germany has made a big impact on her as well.

Once you are able to adjust to sleeping at the local time, it can make a big difference in your mental health.

How to Cope

If you are traveling with others, enlist their help too. Let them know that you are at risk of additional mental health concerns while traveling, so that they will be able to assist you if, for example, you have a panic attack in the airport.

I am lucky that my partner is very sensitive to my needs, and was able to help with our daughter on the plane. He also helps to make sure that I can sleep at a normal time and maintain my routine as much as possible.

Metro also recommends:

  1. Getting to the airport early

  2. Packing your bag with bits to make you feel more comfortable

  3. Refrain from drinking to ease your nerves

  4. Give yourself a bedtime on the flight

  5. Be well hydrated on the flight

  6. Refrain from booking a lot of activities on your first day

  7. Prioritize self-care and treat yourself gently

When you are feeling tired or jet-lagged, be sure to get plenty of rest. That is the fastest way that I have noticed to get feeling better the most quickly.

Also, if you set your watch to the new time right away, you can be sure to adjust more quickly, although you may feel tired.

When you are on the flight itself, most airlines do allow you to bring bottled water. This is easier than relying on the flight crew to provide you with water or snacks. Many only will give you a very small cup of water, which is not enough.

If you take medications, it is also a good idea to take them about an hour before you fly so that you can prevent going into a panic on the flight. It is also easier to access your luggage as well. It is good to have your medications in your carry on for this reason. Also, you may need to take your medications again in-flight if you are on a very long trip.

We were lucky to arrive from our flight on a holiday weekend, so it was easier not to get caught up in tasks that are needing to be done right away. That means, we got some time to rest and enjoy our new surroundings.

Since we have a little one, we took her to do some activities, but still took time for naps our first couple of days. We also went to bed at 6pm local time on our first day, although it didn’t help us with getting into a new routine right away, it did help me to stop feeling so exhausted.

Considering and prioritizing your mental health when you are on the road is perhaps even more important than when you are at home and in familiar surroundings.

Have you had to travel a long way with mental health issues too? How did you cope with it? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

❤ Nicole


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