All it takes is a glance at the news to be faced with big and small issues to worry about every day. Throw in a few years of isolation and pandemic stress, and it’s easy to feel mentally drained and overwhelmed.
If you’ve experienced feelings of anxiety recently, you’re not alone. More than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders in any given year, according to Boston University Medical Center. While you can’t control major global issues, there are some ways to relieve stress, practice self-care and improve your mood, including, researchers say, travel.
October 10 marks World Mental Health Day, an initiative led by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health.
As part of today’s focus on mental health, we at TPG decided to look at how travel affects mental health and the ways you can relieve everyday stress by planning a trip, even if you’re not traveling anytime soon.
Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) people surveyed believe vacations are important to their overall health and well-being, according to the US Travel Association. Additionally, avoiding sell-out was the top-rated motivator for booking a trip in the next six months, which was even higher than travel discounts and deals, according to findings the association shared earlier this year.
It’s not just the fact that you’re on vacation that can relieve stress. Planning before and after the trip is equally good for our mental well-being.
“I firmly believe that the travel experience, the anticipation of travel, and the post-travel memories can greatly improve a traveler’s mental health,” said Dr. Lori Lawrenz, a licensed psychologist who works with Healthline (a Red Ventures). subsidiary).
Here’s how travel can improve your mood.
The 3 stages of the journey
Alexis Bowen, founder of travel planning company Elsewhere (part of Red Ventures, TPG’s parent company) is excited about travel’s ability to create happiness.
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From the research Bowen saw, there were surprising revelations about when travelers are happiest.
“If you divide happiness into three categories: before the trip, during the trip and after the trip, most of us would assume that our greatest joy happens during the trip, while we are on vacation. In fact, this is not true.”
Instead, he explained, studies have shown that the greatest amount of happiness comes outside of the trip itself, and that most of that happiness happens before the trip even takes off. Happiness before the trip is estimated at 50%, during the trip at 15% and happiness after the trip at 35%.
“We feel joy just by anticipating and planning; it’s a layered experience: it’s the journey, but also the preparation beforehand, and then finding ways to incorporate our new experiences into our lives after it all has an overall positive effect on our mental well-being,” agreed Rona Berg, wellness expert and best-selling author.
The Science of Mood-Enhancing Travel Planning
Participating fully in an activity is one way to manage stress, according to the WHO. That’s one reason why just planning a vacation can help you relax.
“Travel planning allows you to move from left-brain activities to more creative right-brain activities, a means to participate in the world where anything is possible,” Lawrenz said.
“And planning gives a Pavlovian response: We know that holidays make us happy, so we’re happy to start planning,” Berg said.
That happy anticipation you get as the holidays approach? That’s the result of dopamine, a hormone associated with motivation and rewards. In this case, the reward is travel, and as you get closer to your motivation (travel planning), more dopamine is released, making you feel happier.
That likely explains why three-quarters (74%) of travelers surveyed by the USTA said they were very or very happy anticipating and planning vacations in the coming year.
The happiness of travel
Of course, planning a vacation comes with another reward: taking the trip you’ve been dreaming of.
The World Tourism & Travel Council considers travel to be a great stress reliever, citing a 2013 study in which 80% of respondents said that travel improved their overall mood and outlook on life, and 75% of respondents also said that travel helps them reduce stress.
“Travel is the door to open the soul to new experiences,” Lawrenz said.
“Immersion in another culture, especially if it is a different culture where different languages are spoken, allows us to participate in a different way than we do in our usual lives. Being different and acting different in this new and different environment will allow us to reinvent and reinvent the ‘I’ that we want to be”, he added.
“In other words,” Lawrenz said, “travel gives us the opportunity to practice being the self we imagine ourselves to be.”
Briana Masson, a travel consultant at FORA travel, shared a recent travel experience she helped plan and brings to life.
“I had a client, a friend of a friend, contact me who was afraid to travel after the[pandemic]. She was emotionally overwhelmed and told me straight up, ‘I need help,’” Masson recounted of a trip to Spain she helped plan last summer.
There was a lot of trepidation at the beginning she recalls, but creating a very detailed itinerary helped her client visualize the trip in advance, helping her overcome her fear of flying after COVID-19.
When she arrived, Masson said, “She was happy from the moment she landed, sending me pictures of the food she was eating and the places she was visiting; she told me she felt confident about having a plan and having an organized itinerary. – which was incredibly rewarding.”
Masson also said he built activities to push the traveler out of his comfort zone, including horseback riding, which gave him a new perspective on both travel and life.
“She felt brave going on the trip alone and these new experiences built her self-confidence,” Masson said. The result was a “boost” to an improved mental state and a general sense of well-being.
This brings us to the last and in many ways the most impactful part of travel: how the activities and environments we experience when we travel stay with us after we return home. This could include memories of spending time at the beach or a picture of a beautiful painting in a gallery.
“When you come back, you feel a light inside afterwards, the lingering positive energy or vacation effect,” said wellness expert Berg.
Berg also noted that many hotels and resorts now have spas that incorporate wellness experiences. They can give you tools and tips on everything from meditation to breathing techniques that you can take home with you and help you spread the positive feeling.
You can recreate that image in your mind of that splash or infinity pool, and summoning the visual in your mind can bring back that feeling and form the kind of connective tissue that transforms our lives, Berg added.
Our commitment to mental health and the Jed Foundation
At TPG, we take the issue of mental health seriously and are grateful to have the ability to share the transformative power of travel with all of you.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, TPG is making a donation to The Jed Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on the nation’s adolescent and young adult population, working with this population to protect their emotional health and prevent suicide
You can read more about the Jed Foundation on their website or donate here.
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