Last week I was in the Texas Hill Country enjoying the scenery with my close friends and 'dog children'. I would often go on summer vacations to the area, most frequently Garner State Park, and I must admit that the hill country will always hold a dear place in my heart. While there, it was complete serenity and relaxation; breath taking views greeted my eyes while I would lie in a hammock with a glass of vino. After enjoying laughs, memory making, and solitude with those who are close to me, it was tough to head back to the ATX. Don't get me wrong, I love my home but it was nice to get a change of scenery for awhile.
Thus, the wheels in my head were spinning while our pack was making the trek back to Austin. What is it exactly about travel that draws people from all walks of life to take an adventure and explore this wonderful planet? Does travel actually have any clinical and documented effect on overall happiness and general mental well-being? Do people who travel more than others reap any additional benefits of happiness, less stress, and better cognitive functioning? After doing some research and digging around on the topic of mental well being and travel, I was able to find some intriguing facts about the benefits of travel and worldly experiences for all ages.
In a study conducted by Chen & Petrick (Health and Wellness Benefits of Travel Experiences, Journal of Travel Research, November 2013, vol. 52 (5), p. 709-719), participants were examined to assess if any health and wellness benefits occurred as the result of travel. Results concluded that those who travel receive many positive benefits from their experience such as decreased stress levels, improved sleep and relaxation, improved mood and energy, as well as less feelings of anxiousness. Additionally, Chen and Petrick concluded that the positive side effects of vacation and travel gradually diminish once the research participants returned to their usual routines. It might take some individuals longer than others but in general we tend to be unable to carry those positive benefits into a more permanent setting (such as our daily lives).
Additionally, researchers have discovered that travel and other worldly experiences help to give our mind a break from its usual routine as well as help to expand the mind itself and encourage growth. In an article by Lauren Suval (Can Travel Boost Your Mental Health, PsychCentral.com), studies have demonstrated that experiencing other ways of living and being can assist the mind in seeing the world in new and different ways. For example, my grandmother used to always say ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’, meaning that there are several ways to tackle an obstacle, learn a new skill or trade, and even interact with the world. Exploring new places that are unfamiliar to us can potentially provide the necessary ingredients to expand our mind and way of thinking and being. Experiencing these types of situations can stimulate growth and expansion of our actual brain; neural networks which have yet to be used can be automatically stimulated and groomed to include new ways of thinking, interacting, and living.
So next time life has you down, go on a vacation and really take a bite out of this wonderful planet. See something different and learn something new all while relaxing and stimulating your mind.
Until next time--take care of yourself, take care of your mind.
Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate
Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha