Why Travel Is Good For Your Mental Health

Americans are notoriously hardworking, sometimes to the detriment of our own health. We take fewer vacations than most other countries in the developed world. We’re much less likely to travel, as well. “The average U.S. citizen has been outside the country three times. In other countries, it’s more like a dozen times,” says Dr. Joshua A. Weiner, a psychiatrist practicing in McLean, Virginia.

Though there hasn’t been a lot of direct research into this, most experts agree that travel has powerful mental health benefits. “A lot is based on making reasonable conclusions based on other things we do know,” says Dr. John Denninger, a psychiatrist, expert on mind-body science and the director of research for the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. On balance, he says, travel is “absolutely” good for mental health.

Here are 6 ways traveling boosts your mental health:

Travel teaches resilience. Anyone who has ever traveled, even on a supposedly easy vacation, knows that a road trip is rarely fun every minute. “There are always challenges and conflicts, like in the rest of life. Travel is a chance to recognize that this stuff does happen,” Denninger says. “I try to teach my kids that you can have those hard moments, even in the midst of vacation, and it does not ‘wreck’ the vacation. It’s a moment, and you move on, and that is a good example for when you return to your regular life. Those lessons can be learned in a more concentrated way when traveling.”

It can alleviate seasonal affective disorder. By the middle of winter, everyone yearns for some warm sunshine, but those with SAD often need it to combat seasonal depression. “I have patients who, if they have some sort of SAD, I tell to make sure they go on a cruise or head somewhere sunnier every winter,” Weiner says. “It is unclear if it works because of the vacation or whether it’s the week in the sun, but either way it seems to do the trick.”

Travel is a form of behavioral activation. Depressed individuals tend to isolate themselves and avoid things that can bring pleasure, which only makes their depressionworse. Increased engagement in activities that have been shown to improve mood, like travel, can help. “It can be as simple as going for a walk, but something more involved, like travel, we can say by analogy almost certainly is worthwhile,” Denninger says.

Experiences trump “stuff.” Multiple research studies have demonstrated that happiness is increased much more by experiences than by things,” Denninger says. “People think the thing that will make them happy is the new Mercedes, but in fact, what makes them happier is the trip they took to Disneyland, or wherever.” A 2014 paper in the journal Psychological Science that looked at four previous studies concluded that “people derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases and that waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good.”

 

It’s a break from daily stress. “You are more likely to disconnect from the phone, and focus on the relationships that really matter, like family,” Weiner says.

Travel connects you with nature. A trip that includes time in natural settings has proven positive health effects. “Our experience of being on a mountain or by the ocean feels sustaining,” Denninger says. For instance, studies have found that going for a walk in nature – rather than an urban environment – can boost your mental health.

This blog was originally posted on U.S. News & World Report.