By: Dani Kessel
Many people rarely go on vacation, so they constantly expend energy and keep on the move to enjoy it to the fullest. They plan every second of every minute of every day. This drive can be great for adventures. It can also result in mental burnout if left unchecked though. Ask yourself this: Will you really enjoy your vacation if by the end you are too exhausted to get back to your daily life? As an avid traveler and someone who has moved around my whole life, I’ve picked up tips to help maintain a healthy mental state while on your trip. Here are my best suggestions as you plan everything out.
Schedule breaks to rest and recuperate.
This may sound strange in reference to vacation, but give yourself some empty time slots within your busy schedule. When you work in rest time, you are less likely to burnout later. Moreover, if that time rolls around and you feel you don’t need a break then you can explore the area without overly planned restrictions. Some of my best adventures happened during unplanned vacation time.
Allow yourself to say no.
“No” is an especially crucial word if your vacation includes draining people, toxic environments, or a combination of the two. Just because you are visiting a town that your family lives in does not mean you’re obligated to see them. If someone asks you to dinner and you don’t have the mental energy, say no thank you. When someone tries to hijack your plans or change everything, stop them. Tell them that you appreciate their intentions; however, you already made plans that you are going to keep. The power of “no” and keeping your agency is important so that your mental health doesn’t deteriorate in what’s supposed to be a relaxing time.
Make sure that you have adequate refills of all your medications.
Before I left for my vacation, I got in contact with my primary health provider and pharmacy to inform them that I would be gone for 3 weeks. They helped me order and fill enough of my antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and PTSD meds to cover the whole time I would be gone. If you also take daily medications, no matter the kind, please make sure that you have enough of the medications to last your whole vacation. Also, research pharmacies in the area in case of any emergencies.
Create a mental health self-care kit.
When packing for your trip, make sure you put together some comforting and self-care related items. Bring dry shampoo, body wipes, and any essential oils that you may want to travel with. These can help on days with executive dysfunction. It’s also a great idea to use a journal during your trip to reinforce your use of mindfulness. If you need to, write daily check-ins to acknowledge your mental state. Consider something tactile for grounding purposes like a small stuffie or silly putty. Make a stress relieving playlist on your phone or computer or mp3 player. Don’t forget your earbuds/headphones!
Studies have linked even minor dehydration with mood swings, fatigue, decreased concentration, and many other cognitive effects. Drink water regularly throughout the vacation. Seriously. By the time you become thirsty, you are 1-2% dehydrated which means you’re already impaired by dehydration. If you already struggle with maintaining positive mental health in your daily life, adding dehydration to the stress of traveling could impact you more than you’d realize.
Utilize breathing exercises throughout your day.
Deep breathing exercises help decrease stress levels, slow the heart rate, loosen muscle tension, and release endorphins. All of these things have shown to put the body in a state of relaxation. This tip is helpful for almost any day, anywhere, at any time. It is particularly useful for vacation though because when in an unfamiliar environment, hypervigilance and anxiety from the fight-or-flight response can increase. Triggers also may come up that you are not prepared for or expecting. I highly recommend looking into these breathing exercises and using them habitually.
Keep to a relatively consistent sleep schedule.
Okay, I acknowledge that I’m a hypocrite on this one since I am an insomniac and am typing this at 3 am when I went to bed around 10:30 pm yesterday. Don’t do what I do. Changing your sleep schedule adds extra stress onto your body and mind. This is further exacerbated by the innate stresses of travelling and vacationing. Keeping to a relatively consistent sleep schedule, going to sleep within 2 hours of a set time each night, will help you maintain a steadier mental state.
I hope that you keep these tips in mind as you move forward in the planning process. Vacationing with mental illness/es or chronic illness/es may seem like a hassle. Even if you don’t have explicit health problems, the prospect of travel may seem exhausting, overwhelming, and not very relaxing. Don’t be disheartened though. With the proper preparation ahead of time, you can enjoy your trip while mitigating any mental health issues that could arise.
If you’ve got a traveling story to share, put it in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your adventures, mishaps, and tips you may have picked up along the way!