How Travel Alters Your Brain Chemistry

travel benefits for mental health

Most of us who have travelled have experienced mental health benefits first-hand. Travelling might’ve made us more open to other people and cultures, given us a renewed appreciation for our daily lives or inspired us creatively. 

Many of these mental health benefits can be attributed to something called “cognitive flexibility”, which travel enhances and fosters. It does so by exposing the individual to new environments, cultures and experiences. 

“Travel inherently presents challenges and unfamiliar situations, prompting individuals to adapt, problem-solve and think creativity,” says Ryan Holiday, best known for marketing the Stoic philosophy and authoring best-selling book The Daily Stoic. Holiday will be speaking live in Sydney on Wednesday, July 31 and Melbourne on Thursday, August 1.

“This adaptability is key to cognitive flexibility, the ability to switch between different concepts and perspectives. When we travel, we’re constantly encountering new stimuli, which challenges our minds to adjust and expand beyond our comfort zones.”

Holiday says his own travels have had a profound impact on his mind. They’ve broadened his perspective and understanding of different cultures, and sparked his curiosity about the world. Each journey has given him unique challenges and opportunities for growth. 

“They’ve contributed to my personal development and overall wellbeing, which have not only enriched my writing, but also deepened my sense of empathy and humility.

What Are the Other Mental Health Benefits of Travel?

Aside from bettering our cognitive flexibility, Holiday also pinpoints travel’s other mental health benefits. Travel gives you the opportunity for introspective and self-discovery, he says. It allows you to detach from the distractions of daily life and reflect on your values, goals and personal growth. 

“Travel can also reduce stress and promote relaxation and mindfulness by allowing individuals to temporarily escape from their daily routines and responsibilities,” he says. “It also encourages individuals to step outside of their familiar surroundings and engage in new activities or social interactions.”

Can Travel Negatively Affect Our Mental Health? 

When talking about the mental health benefits of travel, it’s also important to acknowledge its downsides too – and an experience that might be great for one might not be for another. 

“Travel isn’t always stress-free,” says Holiday. “Navigating unfamiliar places or dealing with language barriers can be stressful and overwhelming. Similarly, planning and travel logistics, coupled with disruptions to routines and sleep patterns, can contribute to anxiety, feelings of disconnection or homesickness and burnout, it not managed correctly.”

Travel, especially in the age of social media, can also exacerbate desires for validation or comparison to others, which might lead to feeling inadequate. For this reason, it’s essential to approach travel mindfully and to take steps to watch out for these potential downsides.

“You can do this by prioritising self-care, maintaining routines and seeking support when needed,” Holiday says.

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