By Dr Charlotte Russell and Dr Jill Dunbar, Clinical Psychologists
This is the second part of our travelling with mental health difficulties guide. You can find Part 1 here . Once you are fully prepared, the following advice will help you to get the most out of your time away.
Unfortunately travel can come with disruption and challenges including delays and stresses. There also might be times during your trip where you have a bad day or when you are not enjoying yourself as much as you’d like to.
It is important not to put too much pressure on yourself to ‘make the most’ of the time. This can actually be counter-productive and stop you from relaxing and enjoying yourself. It is not realistic to expect that you will feel great for every moment of your trip. It’s ok to have a bad day. Remember your coping strategies and allow yourself extra time to focus on your mental health in you need to.
Build a mini routine
Routines in everyday life can be comforting for everybody, especially if you are struggling with your mental health at any time. In fact, one of the signals of mental health decline is veering away from standard routine and disrupting aspects of basic self care, for example sleep schedule, meal times, hygiene etc. Travelling inevitably means that there will be a disruption to your routine, whether that is because of time differences, being away from your work schedule, or generally fitting in new and different experiences. If you are concerned about your mental health while travelling, it can be helpful to build a mini routine into your travels to help anchor yourself day to day. This could be sticking to a certain sleep schedule, having a night time routine before bed or in the morning when you wake up, or ensuring you eat at approximately the same times each day. Keep your routines simple and manageable, ensuring they work in your new environment and notice if they give you a sense of safety and comfort as you do them.
The basics of self-care shouldn’t be underestimated. As well as sticking to a consistent routine, try to make healthy choices where possible. Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun and insects. Avoid substances and excess alcohol.
We know that any kind of physical activity is great for our mental health so try to stay active on your trip. Walking and swimming are excellent choices.
On holiday we have the opportunity to experience lots of new sights, smells, sounds and tastes. Using techniques such as mindfulness can be a great way to really experience and take all of this in.
Use your creativity
Finding a way to document our travels and to use our creativity can be great for our well-being. Some people do this by taking photographs so they can look back on their experiences and what they have learned. This might work for you, or there might be another way to use creativity that suits you better.
You may want to share your photos on social media or you may want to keep them to yourself. Either way is fine and it is important to do what is right for you. When being creative it is important to focus on the process rather than the finished product. For more information see our guide: Should I share my travel photos on social media?
Understand cultural differences
There can be big differences in how people interact in other cultures, so it can be helpful to understand the culture in the destination you are visiting. If we don’t understand the cultural differences we may feel confused or unnerved by different ways of interacting. If someone speaks bluntly to us we may be upset by this or take it personally, when actually that way of interacting might be quite normal. Making a cultural faux pas this can be difficult too so it’s a good idea to understand the dos and don’ts. Guidebooks and travel blogs can be helpful ways of understanding and learning about the culture and customs of your destination.
Be aware of signs of your mental health declining
If you notice your mental health starting to decline when you are away, think about what you can do to feel safe and calm. Remember to go back to the plan you made for responding to triggers, and to make sure you are putting in place your usual coping strategies.
It can feel worrying when we notice our mental health declining, but it is easy to overdo it whilst we are travelling. So it may just be helpful to adjust your plans and to have a quiet couple of days and to recharge. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or pack too much in. If you feel like you need to slow down and take time out it is important to tune in to this and listen to yourself.
Planning for potential triggers and considering your choice of destination are important steps in ensuring that you are fully prepared for your trip. Prioritising self-care, staying mindful, using your creativity and understanding your destination can help you to manage your mental health whilst you are away.
Additional resources – existing published advice guides
NHS Fit for travel – Travel and Mental Health https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/general-travel-health-advice/mental-health-and-travel
UK government advice on travelling with mental health needs https://www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-advice-for-people-with-mental-health-issues
An advice guide for travelling with bipolar How to Reap the Effects of Travel For People with Bipolar Disorder (psychcentral.com)
An advice guide for travel and psychosis IAMAT | Travel and Psychosis
An advice guide from Alzheimer’s UK about travelling with dementia (Dementia is a cognitive impairment and not a mental health condition) factsheet_travelling_and_going_on_holiday.pdf (alzheimers.org.uk)
Additional resources – lived experience blog posts
Hearing about the experiences of others with similar difficulties can be helpful, in addition to guides written by professionals. The following are personal blog posts about travelling with specific conditions:
A personal blog post about travelling with anxiety How Not to Let Anxiety Stop You From Traveling (nomadicmatt.com)
A personal blog post and advice guide about managing trauma symptoms whilst travelling Trauma on Vacation | Psychology Today
A personal blog post and advice guide about managing OCD whilst travelling The Ultimate Guide to Traveling with OCD (mindfulmeggie.com)
A personal blog post about managing an eating disorder whilst backpacking 6 Things That Helped Me Manage My Eating Disorder
Whilst we have reviewed the information on these pages, we cannot be responsible for information on the websites that we link to.