Even getting out of bed can feel like climbing a mountain when you're suffering with depression. Sometimes, all you want to do is stay in your own dark little corner of the world and avoid everything. And yet, the more we're starting to talk about mental health, the more we're realizing the that travel can help. It might not be scientifically proven yet, but it's something increasingly well-documented by travel and mental health bloggers.
And it's no surprise, really. We all know that travel makes us feel good. It's a break from the dullness and frustrations of everyday life; it's a doorway to new and exciting experiences. But how exactly can it help us in that mammoth struggle against depression?
Travel is fun!
It sounds almost too simple, but traveling the world is much more fun than the 9-5 grind. Depression can be a result of circumstances or purely chemical, but either way, a dull or stressful daily life is no ideal circumstance to challenge it. Traveling, on the other hand, can really make a difference.
When you travel, the day-to-day experiences you have are much more enjoyable and exciting. Whether you're exploring the history of an Eastern European city or snorkeling with sea turtles somewhere tropical, the chemicals released by your brain as you experience pleasure and excitement go some way to counteracting the hopelessness of depression. It's no quick cure, but it's a start towards putting yourself in a better place mentally.
The friendships you make will change you
When you're struggling with depression, your social life can be one of the first things to suffer. Depression can force you to turn in on yourself and feel uncomfortable in social situations. Ultimately, it can result in you staying at home and avoiding even your closest friends. It's a vicious circle, because socializing and meeting new people is actually really good for us, not least because our feelings of isolation can become dangerous.
The great thing about traveling is that the social situations which occur are often much easier to navigate than those we encounter in our home life. At home, social circles and the shared habits and expectations which come with them are set. This can create pressure in the circles we're in, and make new circles difficult to penetrate.
When you're traveling, social circles are much more fluid, because of their impermanence. The people you meet are more likely to be friendly, open, and interested in creating new bonds. There's also much less pressure to impress, since you may not see the people you meet ever again.
Meeting people when traveling can be a great healing experience, whether it's a family take care of you in a home-stay, volunteers you work with on a project, or fellow backpackers in your hostel dorm. You'll meet people from around the world and all of them will have different stories, advice, and ideas. They'll open your mind in a way which will stay with you forever, and you'll have brilliant memories to look back on when times get hard.
The situations you find yourself in will shake you awake
Depression is often described as a dark spiral into despair. This can be exacerbated by the monotony of everyday life, as the habits of our depression become engrained in our everyday routine. We get used to dodging conversations by the coffee machine and sneaking past our housemates and straight to bed when we get home. We get used to not leaving home at all.
Traveling demands you to be present in a way which your home life does not. Travelling is about solving problems and surviving, and this fresh sense of responsibility for your own welfare is a wake-up call. At the very least, it keeps your mind busy with new and stimulating experiences, leaving less space for dwelling on the feelings of hopelessness which can take over at home.
You'll prove your own self worth
One of the most damaging effects of depression is that acts as a voice which tells us that we are not good enough. This is toxic for our self esteem, and we end up feeling like we simply cannot do anything, no matter how smart or talented we really are.
Traveling puts pay to this feeling of uselessness because you simply cannot afford to be useless when you're traveling. You book your flights and connections, navigate unfamiliar cities, figure out solutions when things go wrong. It's daunting, but the realization you can rely on yourself in any situation is empowering. It allows you to become a stronger, more confident person. It won't take away your depression, but it gives you a voice to say 'I can' whenever that voice of self doubt comes creeping in.
Seeing the world puts things in perspective
It's all too easy to get bogged down in the details of everyday life. The stresses and anxieties we face at work and home become all-encompassing and we struggle to see the bigger picture. Depression can make this a thousand times worse, inflating the negatives and skewing our perceptions.
Travel is the step back we need to put things in perspective. Away from the niggles of daily life, we can see what's really important. It allows us to assess what's deserving of our time and attention, and what changes we need to make in our life.
It also cultivates an awareness and sense of amazement at the world we live in which we're unlikely to experience at home. Experiencing the beauty of the world, especially the natural beauty of mountains and waterfalls, is a cleansing experience which helps us to find peace with our lives.
Taking the decision to travel when you're struggling with depression isn't an easy one. But it's something that, once you manage it, can make a world of difference. The internet is full of people talking about how travel has saved their lives, and once you've experienced it yourself, you'll realize this isn't an exaggeration.