How to Take Care of Your Mental Health While Traveling

24 October 2017

Originally Published:
30 August 2017

Travel can be enormously beneficial to mental health. Seeing the world can teach important skills for adapting to new circumstances and make you more open-minded. Engaging with different cultures can boost creativity and just planning a vacation can be enough to improve someone’s mood. But despite the benefits, there are risks involved. Travel and mental disorders can make for a potent cocktail.

No matter how long you’re traveling for, or how you’re getting there, or how far you’re going, you should be taking precautionary measures to protect your health. This is especially critical if you are coping with issues of addiction and mental illness.

Mental health issues are cited as one of the most common medical problems experienced by travelers. About 11 percent of travelers are assumed to experience some sort of mental health problem. The numbers are higher in long-term travelers such as migrants and expatriates. This correlates with the different levels of stress these groups face. Short-term travel causes the least amount of stress while expatriates and frequent travelers experience the highest levels of stress. Up to 20 percent of repatriations are due to mental illness.

Travel, in and of itself, can bring on symptomatic behaviors and even acute episodes of mental illness. For example, jetlag has been cited as a cause of psychotic episodes in travelers. Jetlag is a real, albeit temporary, medical disorder with symptoms that range from the emotional to the physical. The most common of these include insomnia, fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, headaches, and digestive issues. Sleep deprivation and the interruption of normal biological rhythms are thought to be largely responsible for jetlag’s stronghold on mental disorders. People with mood disorders are especially vulnerable when subjected to disruptions in the circadian clock.

Jetlag is most commonly experienced when a person travels more than two time zones by airplane. However, there are people who can be affected by a single time zone change. A related condition, travel fatigue, can affect mental health even though it does not usually affect the circadian rhythms. Travel fatigue is not as long lasting as jetlag, but it is still concerning for those who are vulnerable. The symptoms of travel fatigue vary from disorientation to headaches.

It isn’t unusual for people to experience new symptoms or even to have their first major episode of mental illness while traveling. Pre-existing mood disorders may become aggravated. Even people without diagnosed conditions can have a mental health disorder emerge during travel, such as psychosis manifesting in people who don’t have a history of it. Acute psychotic attacks make up an estimated 20 percent of “travel-related psychiatric problems” and psychiatric emergencies rank among the top reasons for air evacuation.

Continue reading the full article on The Fix

Kristance Harlow

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