Depression is difficult enough to deal with at home — you don’t want it following you on your travels. And while travel may help you cope with depression, it will likely not cure it. So what should you do if you suddenly find yourself feeling depressed while away from home? Here are some tools you can use to manage your depression abroad.
Take the necessary preparations before your trip
It’s worthwhile to factor your depression into your planning. If you are worried about being alone, travel with a trusted friend or a partner. Make a plan to beat any jetlag you might have quick so you can get the amount of sleep you need and not get thrown out of your rhythm. If you find that exercise and activity help your depression at home, consider traveling to places where you’ll be able to get plenty of fresh air and participate in your favorite outdoor activities. If art is a useful coping mechanism for you, book a trip that’s filled with museum opportunities, or even opportunities to create your own art.
If you take medication to manage your depression, make sure you bring enough to last the duration of the trip, and if you’re able to, a little extra in case you end up staying longer than expected — whether that be because your flight was cancelled or you simply are having the time of your life and want to extend the experience. You might not be near a pharmacy that can replace them if you run out. If you’re traveling somewhere long-term, make plans with your doctor for how to cover yourself while abroad. The State Department’s travel page is useful for determining what’s available to you in the country you’re visiting. It is also worth checking to see how the meds interact with any unique activities you plan on participating in. For example, certain drugs can cause nausea, which could impact you more greatly on a sea voyage than at home.
Focus on self-care
Our bodies are not exactly machines, but a lot of the way you feel has to do with the way you treat your body. So taking care of yourself can play a big role in staving off the worst of depression.
Consider working meditation or some sort of mindfulness practice into your day. Headspace is a particularly good app for meditators. The Mindfulness App is great if you’re the type of person who likes to keep track of everything.
Pay attention to what you eat. All of the health fad hype aside, eating fresh food may significantly help with your overall wellness, mental health included. While you don’t have as much control over portion sizes and ingredient choice at restaurants, you can try shopping at local markets and grocery stores, which is also another fascinating way to get to know the local lifestyle and cuisine in a way many tourists do not. Just remember to get lodging that has access to a kitchen. If you’re road tripping, bring a cooler and eat fresh fruit or nuts instead of having another gas station bag of chips. This will also probably save you money, so that’s an added bonus.
Keep an eye on your alcohol intake abroad. Travel tends to involve a lot more booze than your day to day life, but alcohol is a depressant. So if you find yourself feeling a bit worse than usual, take some time off of drinking. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid social interactions or a fun night out at the bar. Just get a club soda with lime (or more likely, one of the many trendy booze-free cocktails popping up in bars around the world) and hit the dancefloor.
Lastly, stay off the screens as much as possible. This is a good practice while traveling anyway, but, while there’s still more research to be done, evidence is suggesting that screen time is associated with depression. So focus on what’s around you and stay off the phone, unless connecting with loved ones back home makes you feel more grounded.
Work in an exercise routine to your daily travels
Exercise has been shown to help ease the symptoms of both anxiety and depression, and it’s especially important not to abandon your workout routine while traveling if you find it helpful at home. Unfortunately, opportunities for routine exercise in a gym aren’t necessarily always available, but there are plenty of other options. If running around your neighborhood is part of your routine at home, try working it into your routine abroad every morning before you begin your itinerary (check out WalkJogRun, an app with safe running routes in cities around the world.) It may end up being a great way to see and experience a new place — the same goes for biking, hiking, and plenty of other exercise activities.
You can also take up a gear-free workout routine. There are tons of apps for this. Yoga is a good no-gear-required workout, as well as bodyweight exercises like planks or push-ups. Anything that gets that blood flowing.
If you’re not into the idea of actually working out (it is vacation after all) you can still do simple things to get those endorphins going. Always take the stairs if possible, and make walking a regular part of your day. Roughly speaking, walking burns the same amount of calories as running in twice the amount of time. So an hour of walking is like a 30-minute run. It won’t get your heart rate quite as high, but it’s better than nothing, as walking has been shown to be effective in improving your mental health. So look up walking tours for the city you’re visiting or forego the bus or subway and explore on foot.
Having a plan in an emergency
If you’re leaving the country for an extended period of time, it might be worth checking into the mental healthcare options in the country you’re visiting — some places are better equipped for mental health care than others. If you have a therapist, talk to him or her about it — they may be able to help you plan your strategy or set up an alternative way for you to contact them abroad in case of an emergency. It’s possible they will be able to hop on a Skype call with you if you need to, or even keep up the therapy while you’re abroad. They may also be able to recommend other professionals in the city you’re visiting. In a pinch, there are online therapy tools like BetterHelp and Talkspace that you can find help on.
If you don’t feel like you can talk with any of your travel companions, take advantage of Skype and call someone trusted back home. And if you are worried that it’ll get so bad that you’ll have to cut the trip short and fly home, try buying Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) travel insurance. It’ll keep you from losing all of your money if you have to cut the trip short.
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