As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I would go away from my usual theme and write a little post about how travel has affected my mental health.
The first time I realised that travel had such an impact on my mental health was when I went away with my sister on a road trip. It was the summer after my first year at university. It was her birthday and so to celebrate we were doing a week long road trip from her house in Prague through Austria, Slovenia, into Italy, up to Switzerland and then back to Prague across Germany. In Italy we were joined by several of her closest friends, none of whom I had met.
Before the trip, I was anxious about not knowing anyone else I would be spending so much time with, or feeling out of place. However, on the trip itself I realised how free I felt. It was the first time I truly appreciated travel and how it made me feel. Being in new environments, new countries, new surroundings really opened my eyes to how I was feeling in my everyday life. With all the new experiences, I really learned how to open my eyes and take in the moments.
The trip forced me to reach out of the protective shell I’d created for myself. My entire life I have been introverted, anxious of what people think of me, often afraid to speak out. Only those closest to me get to see who the real Harriet is. Is this a character flaw? Is this a protection method? I don’t really know. What I do know, is that this was the first time I realised I could let down that guard, let down the levels of anxiety and truly enjoy myself and the perhaps once in a lifetime experience I was living.
From that moment on I had a new appreciation for travelling. I have always loved to travel and seeing the world, but every trip after this one I really took note of how happy I felt. My anxiety for travelling had reduced dramatically, and when I wasn’t travelling my general anxiety and introverted behaviour was reduced too.
It’s still in no way perfect. There are times I still find myself going back to that anxious and introverted character, but when I do I remind myself of how I have come so far, and travel has so much to do with that.
Here are my top 3 tips for you if travel is something you’d love to do but is a very scary process:
- Start off by travelling with someone you’re close to. For me, this was travelling with my sister. If you’re lucky enough to have someone you are close to in your life, they are the best person to travel with if the idea is a daunting one.
- Go somewhere you’ve visited before. I am now comfortable flying on my own and visiting somewhere I’ve never been before. However, this wasn’t always the case. By flying from an airport I already knew and flying into an airport I had previously been to, it took a lot of the stress and anxiety away, and building myself up step by step and going at my own pace now means I (most of the time) feel confident to go places on my own.
- Don’t travel too far away for too long to start with. Ease yourself in gently. Give yourself a shorter journey or a small time period such as a weekend away to show yourself that you can do it can really help boost your confidence, without overwhelming you and putting you a few steps backwards.
I hope these tips can help you on your way to travelling happily and healthily!