How to manage your mental health condition on holiday
Travel is an opportunity for new experiences, relaxation, and a re-charge of your well-being.
In fact, a study by Cornell University found that we get more joy from anticipating a travel experience than buying new possessions!
This happiness can be found even when you are travelling with a mental health condition: with a holiday plan offering the provisions needed for your peace of mind.
Read our guide below on Travelling with a mental health condition, which aims to help you avoid the triggers of mental health issues and get the most out of your break.
Getting help while abroad
Unfortunately there are differing attitudes towards mental health around the world, and care isn’t always as available as in the UK.
When planning a holiday, it’s important to think about the destination carefully and research availability of treatment before booking your trip. For example, healthcare professionals in a number of countries won’t recognise an anxiety disorder as a medical condition. In these situations, it’s important to have mental health travel insurance, which includes an emergency telephone number offering cover for your pre-existing conditions.
Also, it’s important that everyone travelling with you knows about your condition and how they can support you if required. Make sure your family and friends know about your plans in detail, and how they can keep in touch with you. Update your key contact numbers in your mobile phone to include the UK dialling code (+44) so you can call people quickly should you need to.
Managing a mental health condition while travelling
A wide range of factors can affect your mental health during travel including:
- Separation from family and friends
- Time zone changes and jet lag/sleep deprivation
- Disruption of routines
- Travel delays
- Unfamiliar surroundings
- Language barriers
- Forgetting to take medication
So it’s vital to make plans which manage or avoid things which could trigger your condition.
Before you travel
Recognise that travelling can be stressful and think about the different ways your trip could cause problems. Research your destination so you know what to expect when you arrive, and ensure that your travel plans are well thought out that you have contingencies in place for coping with delays.
Take care with your medication
When it comes to medication, it pays to be cautious. Certain medications, including narcotic and psychotropics are restricted or banned in some countries – so this may affect your decision on where to go.
The good news is this is something you can research directly online. The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) provides travel advice on countries including customs and health issues. You can check directly with the consulate of the countries you are travelling to or through.
Keep all medication in your hand luggage and take more medication than you need – according to the Fit for Travel website, an additional 1-2 weeks’ worth of medication should be carried in case medication is lost or stolen or there are delays.
Always carry medication in its original packaging, as well as a doctor’s letter detailing diagnosis / medications, and a copy of your prescription.
Time zone changes and jet lag can disrupt your sleep patterns, affecting your mental health as result.
Tips to remember for managing jet lag:
- Take a rest before departure
- Break up very long journeys with a stopover
- Napping frequently during the flight
- Stretching and exercising as much as possible
- Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine as these increase dehydration
It’s also important to make sure you take your medication at the correct time during travel!
Maintain healthy practices abroad and keep to routine where possible.
Day to day self-care is an important part of managing a mental health condition and should be continued while travelling.
Making time to continue doing things like taking regular exercise, eating well and getting plenty of sleep will help you keep your routine and sustain good mental health.
So have a good time… but have a good routine too!
And remember to keep in touch with family and friends – especially when travelling alone.
If you feel your mental health deteriorate at any point while you’re travelling, get help straight away from your travelling companions, local mental health services or the UK consulate if there are no other options.
Tips for travelling with depression or a mood disorder
If you live with depressive or manic episodes you will be aware of the chance that original travel plans can sometimes change or be abandoned.
If medical treatment during your holiday is needed, also note that it could involve a stay in hospital to stabilise symptoms, and result in repatriation back to your home country. So be sure have medical travel insurance which includes curtailment cover.
Managing your triggers and knowing how difficult circumstances may influence your well-being is as important as ever.
So use this checklist recommended by the IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers) for managing your condition:
- Try to anticipate how you’ll feel and react to being away from home and immersed in a different culture
- Travel with a trusted family member or friend
- Research your destination and choose a low-stress location
- Allow plenty of time to arrive, check-in and leave during transit
- Recognise stress factors and warning signs and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Tips for travelling with anxiety
Anxiety is of course a very broad term, and can relate to or cause a number of problems including: panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Yet even if you have no history of anxiety, the stress of travel can cause you to develop symptoms and experiencing anxiety in a foreign country can be frightening. For example, not being able to communicate your problem properly with a healthcare professional may actually make your symptoms worse.
Managing stress, recognising the warning signs of extreme anxiety and knowing where to get help abroad are key to an enjoyable trip.
Consider these tips for managing anxiety abroad:
- Make sure you have effective coping strategies in place. Carry calming items such as books or journals in your hand luggage and participate in activities the help distract you from anxious feelings
- Plan ahead: choose a low stress destination, map out your itinerary in detail and allow for plenty of time to check-in at airports and train stations
- Consider travelling with a trusted relative, friend, or professional travel companion.
- Recognise stress factors and warning signs leading to an anxiety attack and seek medical attention as soon as possible if needed.
- Void alcohol and other illicit substances as these can trigger feelings of anxiety
Guides and resources
There are a number of guides, resources and blogs with tips for travelling with a mental health condition.
The FCO provides travel advice on customs and health issues for every country in the world as well as general guidance on travelling with a mental health condition..
The NHS Fit for Travel website offers advice for travelling with a mental health condition.
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) has developed a number of guides on dealing with various mental health challenges while travelling, including depression and anxiety.
The Rethink Mental Illness charity features a number of blogs including tips from a guest blogger who took her first solo trip with anxiety.
If you have any tips or guidance about travelling with a mental health condition, share them below!