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How Travel Can Help Ease Depression

I have known depression in my lifetime. Many people have, as evidenced by the fact that antidepressants are now among the most prescribed drugs in America.


Sometimes this is a deep, debilitating, clinical depression. In situations like this, it is wise to work with a therapist or doctor.


In my own experience, it was more of a general malaise. A case of feeling stuck, unenthusiastic about life, caught in a perspective—the same thoughts circling back on themselves over and over again.


And the thoughts were not good ones. I was not being kind to myself.


Talking myself out of depression did not work. I never chose to go the route of antidepressants, and luckily I was never so deeply depressed that external intervention was required. I’m talking about minor, situational depression.


What broke the pattern for me, what helped lift me out of my rut, was shaking things up in my life.


I started making changes.


This is where TRAVEL comes in. Every time I travel, especially to other countries, I have a shift in perspective. I gain new clarity. I come home knowing exactly the things I need to change and adjust in my life.


Because when we travel to other parts of the world everything is new. Everything is different. It breaks us out of that perpetual habit pattern of thinking within which we sometimes get stuck.


We see things differently.


Often, when I travel, it gives me a whole new appreciation for my life and I am reacquainted with what it feels like to be grateful. I am reminded that there are actually a lot of positives I had forgotten about. That it’s not all bad. That I have a pretty good life, comparatively. 


And whatever does not fit into that pretty good life is suddenly very easy for me to see. I always come home knowing what needs to change, what needs to shift, what needs to evolve.


This is the beauty of travel. We grow. It lifts us out of our narrow perspective and limited perception and widens our lens.


I am reminded of the quote, “A mind once stretched never returned to its original dimensions.“


Travel changes us. It opens our eyes, expands our minds, and widens our peripheral vision.


According to neuroscientist Paul Nussbaum, traveling can stimulate your brain and encourage the growth of new connections within cerebral matter.


I recently learned of a phenomenon psychologists call the Easterlin Paradox, which indicates that, while money can lead to happiness, it’s not the kind of happiness that lasts.


In a 20 year study by Cornell University, Dr. Thomas Gilovich (psychology professor) asked participants to rank their happiness after making any major purchase, both material and experiential. Initially, the participants ranked their level of happiness the same with both kinds of purchases. However, over time, their satisfaction with the material things decreased, whereas their satisfaction with experiences that they had spent money on actually increased.


More and more, Americans are looking for ways to protect their mental health and travel is one of the ways they’re doing it. In an annual survey of American travelers’ behaviors and attitudes, 91% said they see a vacation as a way to “hit the reset button” on stress; while 81% say that one of their primary goals with travel is “mental wellness”.


Interestingly, a five-year study of 1,500 Wisconsin women revealed that those who took vacations twice a year reported less fatigue, stress, and even depression than those who vacationed only once every couple of years. Interestingly, those who traveled also reported more satisfaction in their marriages.


In his book, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, Dr. Michael Merzeneich (known as the “father of brain plasticity”) stresses the importance of doing new things, embracing the unfamiliar, and getting out of our comfort zones. A change of scenery, learning a new language, or even trying new foods can snap us out of autopilot and get our neurons firing. All three of these are, often, attained with travel.


Having something to look forward to, like a vacation, triggers the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.


So, yes, I propose that TRAVEL can help ease taking us out of our routine and lifting us out of any ruts into which we may have fallen.


It interrupts habitual thought patterns that do not serve us, and shifts our perspective so that we can look back on our lives with a new and fresh awareness and understanding.


Where are the places you’ve always wanted to go? What countries are at the top of your list to visit?


Maybe it’s time to get started. Pick one, and start researching your options. Talk to a friend or friends about joining you, or join our growing travel community on one of our upcoming trips.


Here are some ways to see travel as an opportunity to give your perspective, and your life, a boost:


  1. Bring a journal. Write in it every night about what you experienced, what you learned, and what you will remember for years to come.
  2. Hone your photography skills. Or take a cooking class. Creative outlets are a great way to feed the soul. And you just might find a new talent you didn’t know you had, or a hobby you’d like to continue to feed even after you return home.
  3. Contrary to the advice we received as children, DO talk to strangers. Start conversations with fellow travelers. Ask questions about their experiences, what they recommend, and where they’re from. Allow your mind to be stretched by other perspectives. You might get the scoop on a spot you didn’t even know existed. You might make a new friend.
  4. Immerse yourself in the culture. If it’s a foreign country with a foreign language, learn some of their key phrases, and practice having conversations with the locals. Try the local cuisine, and expand your palate as well as your mind. You never know what inspiration you may bring back home with you, recreating meals that help you continue to enjoy and reminisce about your trip.
  5. Practice being in the moment. This is perhaps my favorite thing about travel. When I’m in a new place where I have no history and few expectations, it’s much easier to enjoy being in the present moment. While it may be wise to have a loose plan to give structure to your trip and to ensure you make the most of your time, try not to be too rigid or attached to the way you think things should be. When it comes to travel, you’ll have a much better time if you’re flexible and adaptable. What a great opportunity to practice letting go of control so you can leave space for spontaneity. Allow things to unfold organically. You might be surprised at what presents itself if you aren’t resisting the natural flow of things.
  6. Gain a new perspective. Travel lifts us out of the monotony and allows us to see our day-to-day lives from a distance. We are better able to see what it is that is good about going home, and we’re better able to see what isn’t working. We can bring this new awareness home with us, and make whatever small tweaks or big changes that will help bring our lives back into alignment with what our spirits crave.


Travel is not a cure-all, and I’m not claiming it as the prescription for healing depression.


But it can help lift us up out of a rut and give us a breather, and offer us the space and perspective to see our lives differently.


If you’ve got a travel companion, great. If not, solo travel is becoming quite the thing. But if neither of those feels like a good option for you, consider small group travel. You can have an adventure where all of the details have been worked out for you, enjoy the safety of traveling with others, and you can even pick a like-minded travel group—like our yoga travel community (check out our upcoming trips here), or a travel photography group, foodie travel, or whatever other tribes to which you feel curious or drawn.


You’ll find that just researching, planning, and thinking about the trip lightens your mood, fills you with a sense of possibility and excitement, and offers you a promise of more to come once you get yourself there.


I am reminded of another quote, this one by Napoleon Hill. “The moment you commit and quit holding back, all sorts of unforeseen incidences, meetings, and material assistance will rise up to meet you. The simplest act of commitment is a powerful magnet for help.” 


Get a passport, or renew yours if you need to. Start letting some energy build as you think about the places you’ll go, the experiences you will have, and the people you will meet.


As you focus on possibilities, you will most likely feel your spirits lifting.

Life is a gift. And nothing is guaranteed. 

Don't wait to live the life you could be living today. 

Join us on an upcoming trip of a lifetime!



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