Doing the work to care for our mental health can be challenging enough for most of us in the preoccupations of the day-to-day, but to stay on top of our mental health while traveling is a whole other challenge. With constant variables that take us out of our regular healthy habits, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or like we’ve “fallen off the wagon” of our healthy routines. It can be particularly tough for those of us who experience general or travel-specific anxiety, or difficult relationships with food and/or body image.
After traveling so often over the past several years for work, I’ve figured out some helpful strategies to manage my mental health while traveling. Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Manage your expectations
I used to cause myself a lot of unnecessary stress by trying to remain rigid to my usual routines while traveling when it came to exercise and food. With timezone changes, local availability of foods, and access to gyms all being complete wildcards, it’s not realistic to think that you’ll be equally as active or eating identically to your usual routine while you’re traveling. So set more realistic expectations for yourself around these things by taking into account the nature of your trip, whether it be for work or pleasure. By doing so, you’ll cause yourself less stress and anxiety around feeling like you’re failing yourself somehow. Plus, you’ll lighten up your suitcase by not being overly ambitious with packing 10 workout outfits, but rather just a few staples and a pair of sneakers.
2. Remember not everything will go according to plan
The best laid plans can go awry thanks to missing a connecting flight, travel delays, or any unanticipated factors. Being married to your plans can cause undue stress on yourself, so reminding yourself that there will always be little hiccups can help you go with the flow. Missed that yoga class you were hoping to make before your conference? Maybe focus on a stretching session at your hotel room in the evening when you’re done instead. Rather than lingering on what should have been or was supposed to be, focus on making the next best alternative choice to get to where you need to be!
3. Carve out pockets of space for yourself
On work trips with packed itineraries or big social trips like bachelorette parties, it’s easy to feel like you’re caught in a whirlwind that doesn’t give you a spare minute to be alone and catch your breath. For introverts especially, a little bit of time alone to recharge is necessary. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself from something a bit early, or if the schedule is inflexible, wake up a bit early to meditate or wind down the evening in the hotel bathtub. For me, I tend to love getting up a bit earlier than my first event on my itinerary, and going to a local coffeeshop to chill out on my own. This is a little act of self-care for me that helps me feel much more mental clarity than if I were to jump straight into the day. Even 10 minutes is beneficial, as long as it’s dedicated solely to you.
4. Bring the things that will make you feel good
There are too many variables with traveling that I can’t control, so I like to take a few things with me from home to ground me and make me feel centered. I’ll take some packets of the tea I always drink in the morning, my supplements, a trigger-point massage ball, my reusable tumbler, and a face mask. These little TLC tools take up almost no extra room in my suitcase, but are things I know I can count on having to make me feel good regardless of wherever I’m headed!
5. Remember that what you do consistently means more than what you do occasionally
Going to Italy for a few days and eating all the amazing fresh pasta there is, but feeling a little anxious about that being out of routine for you? Remember that a few days or meals out of your usual routine habits are not going to suddenly change your physique or make you forget about your usual healthy habits. A lot of us can stress about vacation food and lack of exercise, but reality is that travel is meant to take you out of your routine, and you’ll only ruin your vacation by stressing out over eating foods that you normally maybe wouldn’t be indulging in as often when back at home. Eat the pasta and ENJOY it!