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Feeling burnt out? Mental health experts say it’s time to embrace “travel therapy”

Posted by for Wellbeing

They say that a change is as good as a rest, but researchers believe that for mental wellbeing, a change of location might be better than lying on your sofa.

If you’re feeling low energy, bored or just creatively flat, they say that “a change is as good as a rest”. But researchers believe that when it comes to your mental wellbeing, a change of scenery is probably better than doing sweet FA. So is it time we took the power of travel more seriously?

A new paper from Edith Cowan University suggests that it’s time to change the way we see tourism. It suggests that rather than treating it as a recreational luxury, travel can offer some serious health benefits that are as powerful as more traditional forms of mental health treatments.

Bringing together experts from across the tourism, public health and marketing industries, lead researcher Dr Jun Wen and his team have been investigating what impact tourism has specifically on those living with dementia.

“Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation and adaptations to a patient’s mealtimes and environment,” Dr Wen says. “These are all also often found when on holidays.”

He explains that being in new environments and having new experiences can provide cognitive and sensory stimulation.

Dr Wen goes further, however, and says that while exercise has been linked to mental wellbeing, we know that people tend to move more when they’re on holiday. We often walk more than usual because we’re sightseeing or travelling from hotel to beach, for example. And then there’s the fact that what and how we eat when travelling changes. “[Meals] are usually more social affairs, with multiple people – family-style meals,” Dr Wen explains. All of which is good for us.

Whether we’re exploring a warmer country or a colder climate, we still tend to spend more time outdoors, upping our exposure to fresh air and sunshine, which increases our vitamin D and serotonin levels.

All these factors are why experts are now pushing for tourism to be given a proper place within public health. “Tourism has been found to boost physical and psychological wellbeing,” says Dr Wen. “Tourism is not just about travelling and having fun; we need to rethink the role tourism plays in modern society.”

It’s an interesting take, given that it’s harking back to the kind of treatment doctors used to prescribe in this country. Generations ago, people living with depression or episodes of low mood would be advised to head for the country or to go abroad – presumably to reap the benefits of spending more time outdoors. In recent years, those kinds of holistic circuit-breakers have taken a backseat. But as social prescribing (prescribing things like strength training for anxiety) grows in popularity among GPs, we might see travel move from tourism into health science. 

If you are feeling burnt out/exhausted, please do visit your GP and/or Mind.

Images: Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.