For some, travel is not just about discovering new places, but escaping old ones that have had a negative impact on our lives.
But what if the negativity in your life isn’t coming from your past? What if it’s following you around, bringing down the day? If you’re carrying it with you, you can’t run away from that.
Travel can be a brilliant escape from normal life, but for somebody who has a number of internal battles to deal with, is a change of location really an escape?
Plenty of scientific studies have proven that travel can benefit our mental health. It can open our minds to new experiences, encourage creativity, relieve stress, strengthen your character, teach you to be more accepting and less judgmental of the people you meet – there are too many benefits to explore them all here in this tiny corner of the internet, but we all know, sometimes it’s just good to get away.
On the other hand, it can also have a negative effect on your psychological state. Planning your travels can sometimes be stressful, for some people there may be separation anxiety, losing that support system of well-known faces and personalities at home – you have to learn to be your own person, rather than reflecting the familiar personalities of those around you. These stresses can exacerbate any underlying troubles that we ordinarily keep under wraps. Additionally, travel is addictive, once you start it can be incredibly hard to remain satisfied with everyday life again. Post-travel blues! It’s also true that not everybody officially suffers with a mental illness. You don’t need to have been labelled with a named diagnosis to sometimes feel the effects of your own mind playing the part of your worst enemy.
So what if you do suffer, and you choose to travel? What if your whole life is travel? Sounds lovely doesn’t it?
It can be extremely confronting to leave behind the people who shape who you are from one day to the next and come face to face with yourself. Just your own personality. You need to figure out who you are all on your own, when the people you grew up with, or spend each day with, aren’t there to guide how you act or reassure you that you’re still awesome (or a dick head, if you have really good, honest friends). It can leave you feeling even more lost than before.
So how do you fix you?
Well, that’s a really good question, and I won’t sugar coat it, I haven’t got a damn clue *arms outstretched, palms up* I don’t know you at all.
As a worker, full time, living at home with family or living alone, I have suffered. As a traveller, living on the road and taking life from one day to the next, I have still suffered.
Have you ever experienced THE CRY? You know the one I mean, body shaking, burning lump in your chest, tears streaming, mouth wide open but no sound coming out… But you know it will, the sound will come out and it will be a wail and a half when it does. Now imagine that in a shared room, in a space where other strangers are sleeping. How do you hide that?
There have been times when I’ve held feelings in a dark space in my head for too long and they’ve exploded out in anger, or times where those feelings have, sort of, seeped out, transforming me slowly into somebody whiney and needy, somebody I don’t want to be and wouldn’t want to know.
But, in knowing that there is no definitive cure for my own occasionally disagreeable personality, I’ve realised that there are some little things that help me through each day.
Check in with yourself
A little bit like daily meditation, but you actually don’t have to call it that, or follow any kind of structure. Just take a minute when you wake up each morning to listen to your mind, listen to your body and understand exactly what it is that’s bothering you, if anything, and what simple task could improve that for you. Are you still sleepy? Jump up and down like a twat for a minute and laugh at yourself. Are you aching? Stretch. Are you panicking about the day ahead? Take ten deep breaths and count them in your head before you start to meticulously plan the tasks in front of you. Are you sad about something deeper? Do something that makes you really happy (like, properly happy in your tummy, not just getting drunk and forgetting it).
Try to start each day with a clean slate
Yesterday’s problems are still there, in yesterday, not today, not tomorrow, they’re in the past. Dwelling on them today won’t change the past at all. Accept and move on. The best way to do this is to get into the habit of dropping your bad feelings for the day before you go to bed at night. Practice being happy about the things that are good before you go to sleep, instead of focussing on the negative parts of your day. Go to sleep happy, wake up happy!
Get a little exercise
You don’t need to be physically fit to push your body to the edge of your comfort zone. Exercise produces endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people don’t murder their colleagues before morning tea.
Eat a banana
Bananas make you smile. It’s true. Don’t take my word for it, eat one and try to be pissed off about it, I dare you!
Drink more water
The greater your water intake, the better your mood will be. Plenty of studies support this and a quick google search will tell you all the science behind that if you’re interested.
Keep your ego in check
Probably the biggest one for you to keep an eye on is your own ego. Your sense of self-worth can be enormous and healthy, without acting like the world owes you anything. When you’re feeling low, truly low, take a moment to think about what’s bothering you and why it’s getting you down. Are you being a little bit of a brat?
You don’t have to keep an argument going just to be the winner, that’s not making anybody happier. You don’t have to be the centre of somebody’s life to be important to them, you don’t have to cause somebody else to be unhappy to make yourself feel better (because in the long run, it just doesn’t work). You don’t have to mope around and have everybody know how sad you feel. Try and remember that although you are the centre of your own universe, the world does not revolve around you, and everybody else has their own battle going on. It’s a big wide world full of problems and you are only one pixel in the bigger picture. Try and make your contributions to that picture good ones, you can never feel bad if you always know you’ve done the right thing.
Let things go
You have the ability to improve your mood all on your own, you can learn to control your thoughts, they don’t have to control you. More to the point recognise that a thought is just that, it’s a thought, it’s not a feeling, you don’t have to associate a feeling with everything that passes through your mind, you can recognise and acknowledge your thoughts and then let them go, move on to the next thought. There is no rule book out there that says that just because it’s in your head means you have to FEEL anything about it. Separate intelligence form emotions.
Remove poison from your life
There are likely to be people in your life who you know aren’t good for you. These are often people who other people seem to like a lot. People who don’t make you feel 100% amazing 100% of the time. These people are like a bucket of water on the fire in your soul. Remove them from your life, and don’t for one second feel bad about it. If they dim your light, they are poison for your soul.
Realise that you are not alone
I’ve met a surprising amount of people who aren’t all that different to me. People who aren’t as confident as they might seem or who suffer with emotional struggles which they just seem to hide better than I can. But my realisation now is that they don’t realise they’re hiding things so well. They also think they’re socially awkward, or that people immediately see their flaws and insecurities, but we don’t. We will always scrutinise ourselves more than the person stood next to us, because we stand closer to the mirror and we see right behind those eyes.
I recently stayed in a hostel in one of the most beautiful places on earth, full of exciting and vibrant people. We were all happy, because days were spent at the beach or in the pool and generally having a lovely relaxed time… But how many people there would know that I suffer with depression and anxiety?
I asked twenty people staying there with me, over the course of about a month, whether they had ever suffered with their mental health. Sixteen people said they had, the others knew people from their past who have. There’s nothing to say that they all suffered in the same way or with the same problems, but each person who suffers thinks that their experience is the worst case scenario. Everybody is different and everybody has a battle. Be mindful of how you are dealing with the person in front of you.
So with doing these things each day and keeping a check on how I’m feeling I’ve recently realised something pretty simple… I am happy.
I don’t know when it happened, but I just am.
Just because these are the things that work for me, doesn’t mean they’ll work for you, we are different people with different needs, but does it sound like too much effort to give it a try? It takes more effort and energy to be sad than it ever does to try to be happy.
I am starting to accept that the things I see as wrong in my personality are now just as much a part of who I am as the things I like about myself, and honestly, despite all of my million negatives, there actually are things I like about myself too. Wouldn’t it be nice to focus on those pieces of your puzzle instead sometimes?
There are people everywhere putting their physical health at risk to try and mask or forget their mental health issues. People who don’t even realise their own value, and possibly think they even wouldn’t be missed if the world was without them. I can guarantee, those people are wrong, and their presence is so important to somebody somewhere that the world would truly miss them, even if that’s just one other person’s world.
You have precisely one life and absolutely no idea how long or short it is, but I can promise that it will not be complete if you don’t stop judging and beating yourself up for being imperfect.
I’ve had a rough couple of months, but it’s not the end for me. I’m going to keep on living, keep on travelling, keep meeting new people, keep being socially uncomfortable and probably make plenty more friends and enemies in doing so as I plod along. But I just want you to know, if you understood any of the above at all, and can make sense of my incessant chatter here, you are not alone.
It doesn’t seem right to end without a quote, so…
“Insert generic life and travel quote here”