Depression can be chronic or situational; both are characterized by long periods of lethargy and lack of ability to find pleasure, and depression will affect 1 in 6 people throughout the course of their lives. Having depression doesn’t mean that you can’t travel, although it might mean that you have to be more cautious or kind in the ways you do it. Managing depression even in familiar, guaranteed-to-be-safe environments can be hard enough. Throwing yourself into meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, and having to wander through back alleys in search of a restaurant that has food you can eat might seem overwhelming, so here are some tips for coping with travel when you’re depressed.
1. Establish a routine and some touchstones.
It can be hard enough getting out of bed sometimes, but if you buy a pastry in the same place every day, at least you know how many steps you have to take from your front door before you can sit down and have some coffee. Find your local laundromat so you can keep your clothes and towels and sheets clean. Build some daily goals, so you have something motivating to do that isn’t staying in bed all day.
2. Exercise and go outside.
The lethargy that comes with depression can completely sap your energy, but, even if it sounds counterintuitive: exercising a little bit will make you feel more alert and able to function. I’m not talking daily half-marathons. Sitting up, having a shower, and getting dressed is moving your body. Stretching or very light yoga (including deep breathing) is excellent. Sunlight is proven to have a positive effect on mood and a study in 1999 showed statistically significant decrease in depression among patients who received vitamin D supplements.
3. Eat as well as you can.
Keeping your body functioning well through good nutrition will help you feel and be healthier. The same is true of your mental health; eating as well as you can will help manage your depression. It can be hard to go grocery shopping or make food, or find restaurants (especially if it means you have to deal with people when you get there). Seek out low-impact options, like street vendors or eating in a hotel restaurant or hostel cafe. I stayed at a hostel in Essaouira that served family-style dinners for an extra few dirham, so it’s not out of the question that you could have home-cooked meals delivered to your room.
4. Don’t party like it’s 1999.
Alcohol is a huge depressant. Drugs, especially if you don’t know how pure they are or what they might be going to do to you (how many mushrooms were in that “happy shake”, anyway?), are an even worse idea. If you are surrounded by a lot of other travelers who make partying their central focus, you might want to consider relocating to a different hotel/hostel. It can be really liberating to travel without drinking anyway; you certainly remember a lot more and lose way fewer days to splitting headaches.
5. Try to keep your nose out of your phone.
It can be tempting to spend a lot of time checking in with your friends and family back home, but resist the urge to be online all day long. Researchers in Ann Arbor, Michigan found that more time spent on Facebook decreased subjects’ well-being. However, socially isolating yourself is no good either; you don’t have to rush out and befriend every stranger you see, but trying some gentle conversations with new people, or agreeing to travel with a low-energy friend could all be useful ways to get some face-to-face time without too much pressure.
6. Be kind to yourself.
If you find yourself too exhausted and lethargic to go out, even if you’re staying in an elephant sanctuary near Angkor Wat, cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to push yourself to be hysterically upbeat every minute, and just because you’re “lucky” enough to travel, doesn’t mean that you can’t treat yourself with respect and kindness if what you really need to do one day is watch a bunch of Netflix on your phone and drink fruit smoothies. If you had a terrible stomach flu, you wouldn’t expect yourself to forge boldly ahead with hitchhiking through Ukraine; you’d lie in bed for awhile and recuperate. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself, no matter what kind of experience you think you should be having.
7. If you take medication, make sure you bring enough for your entire trip. Check the contraindications with other medications you might end up taking, like malaria prophylaxis or antibiotics.
It can seem kind of obvious, but this is a detail that might slip your mind, especially if your depression is acting up right before you leave. Most pharmacies will fill a few months of your medication (provided you have enough listed refills) if you tell them you’re going away. If you’re going away for a really long time, get a copy of your prescription so you can take it to a pharmacy wherever you are; this is not ideal, because there is no guarantee a pharmacist will fill an out-of-country prescription, or that your specific medication and dosage is available everywhere. So best to bring what you can with you.
As for drug interactions, just as an example, mefloquine (a common antimalarial) interacts badly with antidepressants, so should be avoided. Prozac causes nausea, so maybe best to avoid that long-distance bouncy sea voyage.
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