Cultural Exchange

How to take care of your mental health when travelling

Look after your Mental Health while Abroad!

Travelling abroad and getting outside of your comfort zone allows you to grow as a person as you experience a new culture and meet new people. However, it can also bring with it a lot of stresses and unfamiliarity, which can take a toll on our physical and mental health.  

We all have mental health and we all need look after our mind for our own health and happiness. For people who live with a mental illness, this takes even more work. According to WHO, One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.’  This means it is highly likely that you or someone you know is having issues with their mental health right now.  

There are many techniques you can adopt to ease the stresses and struggles of everyday life at home. But these can disappear as soon as you break your routine by travelling. Here are some tips on how you can best look after yourself whilst travelling abroad.  

Get your sleep schedule on track 

Travelling can greatly impact our sleep schedule as jet lag disrupts your body's circadian rhythm. Research has even shown that jet lag can cause depressive or manic episodes for people with a history of mental illnesses.  

This is not to say that you will become unwell, more that a change in your sleep schedule not something to take lightly.  

Frequent travellers are advised to keep in time with the place you are visiting, rather than back home. Set your watch and clocks on any electronical devices to the local time and try to stay awake until night-time on your first few days. Try to also not sleep in too late every morning as this can prevent you from falling asleep at night. 

Eating well, exercising and staying hydrated can help to not only improve your mood, but also your sleep. Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine and try to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the right time for the time zone you are in. 

Create a toolkit 

Think about what tools for looking after your mental health you use when you are home and try to maintain them when you are travelling or in your new destination.  

“If deep breathing, positive affirmations, seeking support, exercise, or journaling worked for you at home, it will probably work for you on vacation,” explains clinical psychologist, Ryan Howes, Ph.D. 

This may also be a good opportunity to try something new, or to pick up something that didn’t work for you before. You may find these are now very helpful for the new situation you are experiencing. 

There are also variety of different apps you can try to help you manage your mental well-being. Headspace and Calm are two apps that are recognised for being helpful for improving your mental well-being. If you are interested in other lifestyle changes, there are apps that will help you get into the habits of journaling, exercising and a good night’s sleep. Experiment and see what works for you. 

Volunteer abroad 

If you would like to travel but are concerned about your mental health, volunteering abroad could be a great solution. Mayo Clinic explains how “Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests - both of which have been shown to decrease depression". Volunteering requires you to work with others and, if you are with a responsible organisation, you will likely meet people who believe in the same principles as you. The work you will be doing as a volunteer will also help you to reduce your stress levels as it often requires a lot of mental and physical work. 

By choosing Globalteer, you will be working with a UK registered charity that is a pioneer of responsible volunteering. We are dedicated to help our volunteers every step of the way, by keeping in regular contact with you before you come, providing you comprehensive, tailored travel and health advice and welcoming you into our support network when you arrive at the programme.  

Talk to people 

As mentioned above, it is predicted that one in four people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime. This means that it is highly likely that someone you know will be able to relate to your situation and can offer you some support and advice. Make sure to regularly stay in contact with friends and loved ones at home and arrange times to talk if time zones make it difficult to stay in touch. 

As well as finding support back home, talk through how you are feeling with people around you. If you are volunteering or interning with Globalteer, there will be plenty of people around who are or have been in the same situation as you. Reach out to them and ask for advice on how they settled into their routine. They will likely be happy to help as, if they’ve felt the same way, they know how much they needed it when they were struggling too. 

Explore your comfort zone 

Once you arrive in your new destination, it is important to be aware of how much or little you are taking on.  

Travelling is exciting and it can be tempting to do too much too quickly. By going out a lot in the day or night, you can quickly run out of energy which can bring your mood down. Think about how much you are normally able to take on in your day-to-day life and make sure you schedule in some time to rest and relax. 

On the other hand, travelling can also be overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to begin. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to stay in bed and watch TV, but in order to start to feel better, you need to try something new. Psychologist Ryan Howes, explains, “When you’re at home, you know your routine, but on vacation you may need to step outside numerous comfort zones in order to make the most of your trip.” 

At the end of the day, it is a balancing act. Figure out what works for you and don’t feel pressured to do what you think is ‘expected’ of you.  

Be kind to yourself 

Finally, make sure that you are being kind to yourself. The reality of travelling is that you won’t be feeling 100% OK all the time. There will be lots of ups and downs but try not to focus too much on the negative emotions.  

Homesickness and culture shock are very common with even the most experienced of travellers.  So, know that you are not alone and that these feelings won’t last. Find out what makes you feel better and focus on what you can do right now to improve the situation. Take comfort in the fact that you are doing the very best you can and try not to use negative language around you and your situation. Think about everyday as a new adventure!  

Mindfulness is a great tool for recognising emotions without judgement, you can find out more about this technique here. Apps such as Headspace, Calm and Mindfulness Daily can help you to integrate mindfulness into your daily routine. 

Hopefully these tools can help you to improve your mental wellbeing whilst travelling abroad. To find out more about the opportunities Globalteer offer in cultural exchanges, get in contact with us!