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This post was written and published in October 2018
I clearly have a passion for travelling and I am also very into talking about mental health, so writing a post about the two seemed a clear route to take. I was supposed to write this post ready to publish on World Mental Health Day (10th October 2018), or at least during some point of Mental Health Awareness Week, but I was busy and disorganised so here it is now.
Medication and Travel
My mental health is something I had a slight concern about when I was travelling. In the build up to my trip I had been thinking about (and tried and failed at) coming off my anti-depressants. This brings me onto my first point – DON’T STOP TAKING YOUR MEDS DURING THE LEAD UP TO / WHILST ON YOUR TRIP!!!
About 4 weeks before I left on my travels, I had tried to come off my anti depressants without going for any medical advice. I just skipped two pills by mistake and then decided that I no longer wanted to be on them. It didn’t really go to plan and after 2 weeks I decided to go back on them. As much as I knew that I did want to give coming off them a proper go, I knew that doing such a thing when a massive change is about to happen to you really isn’t the best idea, let alone when I was about to leave the country on my own for over a month.
If you are prone to suffering from mental illness / mental health problems it’s very important you seriously consider what you’re about to take on. Yes, for me travelling is the most wonderful thing in the world, however it’s something that is incredibly challenging to take on, especially if you are doing it alone. There’s a lot of factors that you should take into account and think about how they could affect your mood, thus triggering symptoms of stress/depression/anxiety etc.
Mental Health and Travel Insurance
Something my parents were very set on me sorting out (yes this is a very parent / boring thing to talk about but it is sort of important really) was travel insurance – for anyone wondering I took mine out with Boots. It’s important you say exactly what medication you are on and what condition you are taking it for, as then you can find out whether or not your mental health condition is covered on the insurance plan. In my case depression was covered on my insurance.
Tiredness / Lack of Sleep
When you are continually moving around and doing things you are inevitably going to get very tired, and combined with maybe late nights out, drinking followed by hangovers and potentially distrupted / uncomfortable nights in hostels you are naturally going to become exhausted and incredibly fatigued at times. For me I know that my anxiety and depression can become worse when I haven’t slept enough, so I made sure that I gave myself a break when I needed to and took days just spent in coffee shops with books, or gave myself time to nap in the afternoon if I felt it was necessary.
If you are travelling alone, at times you can feel a little bit lonely, especially when everyone you know and love is at home. I did sometimes feel quite alone and want some familiar company from home, however it’s important that you don’t let this get the better of you and just let yourself enjoy your adventure and go out and meet new people! I met so many people, a few of whom I’m still in touch with now and it was great to find people so like minded to me – made the experience a whole lot easier and sort of gave me sort of ‘mini support system’ for my time there.
Another piece of advice for dealing with loneliness is maybe scheduling a time you can talk to your loved ones back at home so you can always feel sort of with them in a way. I was often reminded of the terrifying fact that the world is SO big and I am SO small and sometimes talking to people from my little, normal life at home brought me back down to Earth again. I’ve got a post about travelling alone in the pipe line so that will be up soon!
This is why budgeting is important! I wasn’t strict with my budget, but I had a rough idea of what I wanted to spend, and knew I had a lot more than that available so I wasn’t going to be completely broke and stranded. The last thing you want on your mind when you’re away and probably having the time of your life is money worries. I occasionally got worried about money but only because I ALWAYS do that. I could win the lottery and be worried about money. I wrote some stuff about how I budgeted on another post which you can check out here.
One essential piece of advice I would give here is MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO FLY YOURSELF HOME AND GET YOURSELF TO THAT AIRPORT. This means that should you run out of money you can get yourself back home and then it’s easier to sort your finances there, not when you’re abroad with very little local knowledge.
Inability to Take Care of Self
Sometimes if your mental health takes a dip you might find it hard to look after yourself. Now I don’t have great advice to give on this one as I am very good at looking after myself if I really need to, so when I was away I knew I needed something to eat, somewhere to stay and to always keep safe – and I would make sure that I did that. If you are worried that you might fall into a place where you cannot take care of yourself I would make sure you are not left alone on your travels. Make sure you are always with or near someone you can trust and have a lot of support with you. If you are feeling very vulnerable prior to your trip make sure you have spoken with someone about how you feel.
Now I am no expert at all and definitely would not discourage anyone to not make the most of their opportunities etc. however, if you feel like your mental health is really suffering then maybe consider postponing your trip. You will not only enjoy it more but will be a whole lot safer if you are in a better place mentally.
Links Between Mental and Physical Health
What I want to say about this slightly relates to the previous point. I often find that if my mental health is bad I can sometimes get bad physical symptoms like feeling faint, dizzy or suffering from very bad headaches. If you think your mental health is causing you to become physically ill you need to make sure you talk to someone who can lead you in the best direction to get the right help and care you need.
Like I said in the previous paragraph, you should always make sure you have someone you trust on hand to help you in these scenarios. Also make sure you have the emergency number of your travel insurance company saved in your phone so you can contact them should you need any help or advice.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can:
- Listen and look at your options if you are in a difficult place
- Contact your friends and family
- Help overseas medical staff contact UK staff
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL…
- Research the mental health facilities of the place you are travelling to
- Do not stop taking your meds!!!
- Plan ahead for what you will do should your depression/anxiety/stress get really bad and hard to cope with – have a plan of action!
- Consider your current circumstances, if you have things going on in your life / recent life events that could cause your mental health to deteriorate, think about whether it’s a good time for you to travel
- If you suffer from a mood disorder think about the impact of language barriers, cultural differences and unfamiliar surroundings
- Talk to people you trust before you go away about how your mental health might change whilst you are away. Make sure you have people you can go to for help and advice should you need to whilst you are away. Just knowing you have people to support you, who you can trust and rely on often counts for a lot more than you think
- Think about travelling with someone and make sure they are someone that you trust
- ORGANISE TRAVEL INSURANCE AND CHECK YOUR MEDICATION AND CONDITION IS COVERED!
- Make sure you have the travel insurance number and numbers of your emergency contacts saved in your phone so you can easily access them
WHEN YOU ARE TRAVELLING…
- Don’t put yourself in vulnerable situations
- Ensure you are able to look after yourself and take a break if you need to
- Be confident – believe in yourself, trust yourself and remember there is always a way out. If you need to you can catch a flight straight back home
- If something feels like it is too much don’t push yourself. Yes, you shouldn’t just get scared and miss out on things, but if you are putting your mental health at risk you really need to take a step back
- MINDFULNESS – enjoy the moment, appreciate where you are and what you’re doing
- REMEMBER THE EMERGENCY SERVICES NUMBER IN OTHER COUNTRIES IS NOT 999!!
THINGS THAT HELPED MY MENTAL HEALTH WHILST AWAY:
- Reading a book
- Coffee shops
- Making friends
- Calling home
- Afternoon naps
- Allowing myself to lie in if I felt I needed it
This post may have been a total waste of my time but thank you to anyone who has read it regardless! I hope this hasn’t come across as insensitive or uninformed at all, I can definitely assure you I wrote this with all the best intentions!
[…] year I decided to write a post about Mental Health and Travel which was supposed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Day 2018. And this year I wanted to do […]