As someone who takes medication for her social anxiety and depression tendencies, I am well-versed in what it’s like to be mentally ill while travelling. So let me share my woes with you.
For most of my life, my mental health was low on my priorities list. But in my last few years of university, I started seeing a therapist and got myself on some antidepressants. From there on out, I started feeling better and I decided that I wanted it to stay this way. I was going on this trip to grow as a person and explore the world. If I wanted to get the most out of it, I had to be in the right mindset. So leading up to my trip I made a promise to myself to make my mental health my number one priority for once.
Side Note: If you’re taking medication (for mental disorders or other medical conditions) make sure you’re carrying the pills in the original prescription bottle as some countries may question what the pills are for if they are packed another way. Also, you should always have your medication located on your person and if possible, split it up between your luggage in case something is stolen or lost. Do whatever you can to make carrying and taking your medication as easy as possible because the last thing you want is for there to be a problem when you’re thousands of miles away from your family doctor.
In the first few weeks of travel, I was so caught up in the excitement of everything that my mental health was at an all-time high. But the exhaustion of constantly being on the move and being surrounded by unfamiliar places and people eventually caught up to me. I found myself getting less willing to interact with others and more likely to hide out in my room.
Eventually, it got to a point where I realized where I went wrong. I had assumed that because I was travelling – something I had always wanted to do – all my problems would disappear. All the overthinking, the low moods, and the self-doubt would evaporate into the fresh sea salt air of Portugal. But running away to the other side of the world doesn’t mean you can outrun your problems. They followed me and I was going to learn how to coexist with them in my new, ever-changing home.
It was this realization that inspired the following advice that I wish I had taken sooner. If you start your trip with these in mind you won’t be playing catch up with your emotions and you’ll be more open to all the adventures that await you.
First and foremost, take mental health days even when you’re travelling. Regardless of how much you love travelling, there will be days when you feel like shit. You’ll be fatigued, overwhelmed from constantly meeting new people (no matter how good they are), and homesick, wishing you were somewhere familiar surrounded by people that know you. You’ll start to feel sadness creep up in your peripheral, too far for you to do anything about it quite yet but close enough that you’re dreading the moment you turn around one day and there it is right behind you. So do yourself a favour and make time for the days when all your efforts are spent on yourself. And on these days remember the following:
- Don’t force yourself to go exploring. Just because you’re in a new place doesn’t mean you have to see every inch of it. If what’s best for you is to stay in the hostel, under the comfort of the paper-thin hostel sheets, then do that. If you know fresh air will do you some good then find a local park where you can sit back and relax.
- Don’t be afraid to be alone. I’m sure this sounds easier said than done for your extroverts but even you guys can benefit from some introvert-approved alone time. Take time by yourself, for yourself, where you are not affected by the feelings or actions of others. And if you really want company, then choose a new friend you trust to join you on your journey of quiet rest. Go sit next to each other at a café for as long as they’ll let you, gazing upon the hustle and bustle of others while knowing that today you will not join in.
- Do put on clothes that make you feel good. Wear things that you can spend your day lounging around in comfortably. Wear things that bring a smile to your face, that make you feel good about your body and that match the mood you hope to have when you fall asleep.
- Do eat food that is both good for the body and for the soul. On days like this, it is important to nourish yourself so revert back to a favourite meal or try a new local delicacy. Either way, the food will get your serotonin and dopamine levels rising alongside your spirits. Better yet, eat this food in a place that gives you joy whether that be looking at the national monument you still can’t believe you get to see in person or watching your favourite tv show.
- Do participate in an activity that brings you joy. Try something new like dancing in the park along with the other local Spaniards. Return to something you haven’t done in a while but have begun to miss like reading a book or biking next to the ocean. Just do something, even if it’s watching trashy television or walking around aimlessly in the streets (safely of course)
- Do call someone you love and tell them how you’re feeling. Somewhere out there, someone is missing you as much as you miss them. Call them so that you can regale them with all your latest adventures and they can relay all the local gossip from back home. Their familiarity will bring you peace and their love will bring you warmth.
- Do go to bed early and hope that tomorrow will be a better day.