Travelling is one of the most often recommended solutions when people express their struggles with depression or anxiety. It is a general belief that travelling is a good solution to emotional problems or stress management. Does it really work for people with mental illnesses? Let us try and understand this better.
In recent times the effect of travel or tourism on our life satisfaction has been thoroughly studied. On a quick overview, I found nearly 298 journal articles, papers, and non-academic resources discussing the influence of tourism on life view. It was found that people who have had a good vacation would have a positive outlook on life. Why does this happen? There are two theories.
One theory states that whenever we travel, we set some goals. We set goals about places to visit, things to eat and places to stay. Once these goals are achieved, the satisfaction that comes with achieving a goal gives us pleasure. Another theory states that workplace and domestic stress depletes our resources. Travelling and taking a vacation helps us replete our resources and start working with energy again.
These effects have been found to last no more than a month but a month is pretty good enough as well.
Travelling & Health
The literature review of various studies has come to a conclusion that tourism does decrease stress but this assertion comes with a word of caution. Perceived happiness may be negatively influenced by a disturbing event during the vacation. Trouble in adjusting to the time-zone, temperatures or a different health problem, are likely to spoil the whole memory of the vacation. There is a need for more evidence to assert that travelling improves physical health.
Now we get to the main question, does travelling/vacationing help with mental illnesses?
Travelling & Mental Health
Two scientists by the name, Pols and Kroon conducted interviews with 11 individuals who had mental health issues. They found that mental illness patients might benefit from tourism. They said that a vacation might help form new perceptions of self-identity, skill development and social relations. A point I feel I must mention is that it was found that people who travelled more frequently had fewer fatal cardiovascular events. Basically, their hearts were healthier.
Now I understand that this may seem like a pretty inconclusive article and a rather drab end to the suspense. The thing is that this is what we know so far with certainty. We just don’t know so far and that puts forth interesting avenues of research. Admitting lack of information or knowledge is one of the cornerstones of a scientific temper. We must not be afraid of saying we don’t know. Only when we know what we don’t know, do we have a possibility of knowing something new.
Chen, C. C., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Health and wellness benefits of travel experiences: A literature review. Journal of Travel Research, 52(6), 709-719.