When preparing for a trip abroad, deciding on lodging and a daily itinerary can often take priority, but incorporating a plan for your mental health is just as important. Mental health thrives in routine, but when we travel, that routine is stripped away. We become disoriented in a new place, far removed from our usual anchors. Instead of landing in a stressful situation with no plan, here are proactive ways to look out for your mental health while abroad. You’ll feel more grounded knowing that a system is in place if and when you need it.
1. Reach Out for Support
Whether you see a therapist regularly, or have family and friends who like to check in on you, consider reaching out and ask for their support while you’re away. This could look like a scheduled video or phone call session with your therapist, a daily text from a friend, or a text-therapy service like Better Help or Talkspace. Having a check-in system in place offers an extra layer of stability while lifting the burden of initiating that support when you’re already in a tough spot.
2. Incorporate Mindfulness Practices
While there’s a sense of magic in the experience of a new place, this sense is often paired with feelings of over-stimulation and disorientation. In anticipation of adventure, our adrenaline spikes, necessitating a grounding practice like mindfulness. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the unfamiliar, but mindfulness allows us to observe those feelings and reclaim our calm.
Consider adding mindfulness practices into your daily itinerary. Carve out time for yourself instead of overbooking and maxing out. Many people feel a pressure to see
and do everything once they’ve made it to their destination, but this may not work for you. Set an intention for what kind of balance you’d like to strike on your trip, scheduling when you want to go out and when you want to stay in. If you deviate from your schedule, you’ll feel more relaxed doing so knowing you’ve scheduled time for recharging.
Mindfulness can look different for everyone. If you have a few practices you enjoy doing at home, try incorporating them into your travel schedule. Some mindfulness practices include meditation, yoga, a quiet walk, listening to instrumental music, taking a bath, cooking, journaling, or breathing exercises. Decide what’s realistic for your schedule and stick to it.
Mind-body connection is a significant pillar of mental health. Movement helps us break from overthinking. It tells our body that we are safe, giving our mind reason to believe it can rest too. Movement can be as simple as a few jumping jacks in your hotel room, a long walk to get your bearings in a new area, or stretching. If wifi is accessible, you can play a fun workout video on YouTube. However you decide to move, you’ll help your body complete its stress cycle and release some endorphins in the process.
5. Have a Plan
Prepare for the worst while anticipating the best. Always consult your mental health care provider before leaving, and come up with a plan together. Look for mental health care professionals in the area you are visiting in case of an emergency. Depending on where you are going, attitudes toward mental illness may determine the type of care you receive. It might be worth researching cultural perceptions of mental health in the country you are visiting so you have confidence that, should an emergency take place, you will be well cared for.
If you take medication, have it on you at all times and make sure your medication is legal in the country you are entering. Learn more about traveling with medication here.
For built-in support, consider traveling with a friend or family member, or traveling to a place where you have a personal contact (should you need their help). Navigating mental illness in a place full of language barriers and strangers can be daunting, but having a plan will make sure that if a crisis occurs, you will have a web of support. Planning for the worst can feel overwhelming too, but remember that preparing for an outcome does not guarantee it. You can still anticipate a smooth and fun trip while having a plan in your back pocket!
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