No matter where you are in the world, mental health is essential. Our team at youRhere is all about wellness: whatever that means for you. One of the best ways to gain insight on yourself and navigate life’s ups and downs? Therapy. We are big advocates for personal therapy, no matter who you are or what you’re experiencing. Finding the right mental health professional can make all the difference in anyone’s life. Emotional wellness journeys are just as important as the physical travels we’ll embark on—believe it or not, travel and mental health go hand-in-hand, perhaps more than you think!
That being said; we’re excited to introduce youRhere’s latest partnership with Choosing Therapy—a new online service connecting people with mental health professionals across the country. Choosing Therapy works with 35+ therapy-based writers that create helpful content on everything mental health, from disorders to psychological techniques to how to vet the right therapist for you.
This week, we were able to chat with one of Choosing Therapy’s wonderful Mental Health Writers, Tanya Peterson, about the connection between travel and mental health (and why this connection is so important for the wellness of *all* world travelers!)
Tanya Peterson (MS, NCC), is based in Eugene, Oregon.
youRhere: What first interested you/inspired you to pursue a career in psychology/therapy?
Tanya Peterson: I initially was a high school teacher, and in that profession my favorite role was not teaching subject matter but interacting with students and helping them navigate life’s problems and grow personally. I often discussed mental health and wellbeing concepts with my classes as a whole, and students frequently visited me outside of class to discuss things like stress, anxiety, relationships, and the like. This made me realize that my passion was for counseling, so I went to graduate school to become one. My specialty is school counseling, but I’m certified to work with all ages and developmental stages. I’ve worked as a teacher and counselor in a traditional high school and an alternative school for runaway and homeless adolescents. I’ve also volunteered as a play therapist.
YRH: What do you find are some of your biggest joys in your job? The biggest challenges?
TP: Now that I am writing full time (as opposed to working in a counseling office or school), I get to interact with people of all ages from all over the world. People often contact me with specific questions about anxiety and/or mindfulness. While I don’t provide online counseling sessions, I do answer questions and help people explore specific issues that are preventing them from being able to live free from anxiety. Also, I am thrilled when people message me to let me know that an article or book that I wrote is helping them create their quality life. I love that writing lets me reach and help so many people.
YRH: How important is mental health during different stages of your life?
TP: Mental health is vital at every stage of life! As we grow through all of our stages, it’s important that we be able to live our lives to the fullest, no matter what that means for the stage we’re in. An elementary school student, for example, thrives when she can navigate parents, siblings, teachers, friends, and classmates and deal in a healthy way with the problems and stresses that arise. Likewise, a man in his 70s flourishes when he can navigate his unique challenges and meet his needs in later life. When we’re mentally healthy, we feel empowered to create our quality lives at every stage.
YRH: In your opinion, are mental health and travel related? If so, how?
TP: Yes! Travel, whether near or far, expands our horizons, opens us up to new experiences, and shifts our perspective. Traveling introduces us to new beauty to appreciate, helps us look on our home life with renewed gratitude, and inspires us to make needed changes in our regular lives. Also, travel provides our minds with a much-needed break from the stress of our daily grind, and in so doing, travel renews our energy so we can live our lives—the challenges and the triumphs we experience every day—with renewed vigor.
YRH: Are there any kinds of mental health benefits, in your opinion, from solo travel? Group travel?
TP: Both solo and group travel are about human connection. Solo travel allows us to connect deeply with ourselves and discover new things about who we are and what we want in our lives.
Years ago, I was dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury and a divorce. I was then a single mother attending graduate school. With everything going on, I didn’t have the space or time I needed to connect with myself and determine my values and action steps going forward. I gave myself the gift of a four-day trip to Mexico by myself, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I turned it into a personal, self-led, mindfulness retreat and allowed myself to process my life in a beautiful new environment free from my daily demands. I returned refreshed and full of love—for myself, my kids, my decision to become a counselor, and even for my then ex, whom I later remarried. It also gave my brain a chance away from stimulation to heal.
Group travel is beneficial, too. It allows us to connect with others in deeper ways than we do when we’re marching through our daily routines at home. Traveling with others allows us to play together, something that adults need but don’t often get to experience. Taking in new wonders and sharing new experiences with other people deepens bonds and fosters connection.
YRH: The act of going from A to B (especially on long plane flights) can be stressful. Do you have any mindfulness technique tips to ease the trip?
TP: When we’re in the process of going to our destination, it’s common to experience significant stress and frustration. Worries about what we might have forgotten or what might go wrong during the trip can keep us stuck in anxiety. Crowds and long lines definitely aren’t conducive to being at ease. Try these mindfulness tips to help keep you centered and calm as you reach your destination:
- Adjust your perspective. As cliché and cheesy as this might sound, it’s the entire journey—not just the destination—that matters. When you catch yourself immersed in worries or irritation, gently remind yourself that you are already on vacation. Find something positive to focus on (a picture, a person, a symbol that to you represents relief from anxiety) and give it your full attention. What do you notice with your sense of sight (spend time looking for little details)? If it makes a sound, what do you hear (or what would you here if it were the actual thing rather than a picture)? What would it feel like if you could touch it? Would it have a taste? Mentally or physically (if possible and appropriate) immerse yourself in this single aspect of your present moment and let your worries drift on by when they arise.
- Breathe! Intentionally take slow, deep breaths when you are tense. Take it to a deeper level by being mindful of your breathing, listening to the sound and feeling it come and go in and out of your body. This bathes your entire system in much-needed oxygen, resets your nervous system by switching off your stress reaction, aka fight or flight, and activating your calm response, aka rest-and-digest.
- Move your body, and be mindful of your motion. Walk around if possible. Engage in small, gentle stretches that don’t put you in someone else’s space. This releases tension that is keeping you in a state of stress and anxiety.
- Practice mindful progressive muscle relaxation. If you are confined and can’t walk or stretch, you can still release tension from your muscles. Starting at your toes and working up to the top of your head one muscle group at a time, squeeze muscles, hold for several seconds, and gently release. Pay attention to the sensation and notice tension leaving your body bit by bit.
None of these mindfulness activities will get you to your destination faster, but they will help you relax and enjoy your trip despite of the inevitable irritations.
YRH: What are some of the best things people can pack (either physically or metaphorically) to maintain good mental health during a trip?
TP: Think of your needs and goals for your trip, and plan accordingly. When you know why you are going and what you want to experience, you can pack intentionally and be prepared both mentally and physically. Some things to consider:
- A journal to record delights, observations, and daily gratitudes
- A small object to carry with you to serve as a reminder to be mindful
- A water bottle and portable healthy food (Mental health is tied to physical health; often, we’re out of our normal eating routine when traveling so we want to ensure that we provide our brain and body with steady nutrition.)
- An attitude of acceptance to help let go of unrealistic expectations. Being able to experience everything as it happens rather than being stuck in ideas of what you think “should” happen is freeing and helps you fully embrace your experience.
YRH: What are some of your favorite places to travel and why?
TP: I love spending time in nature, so anyplace outdoorsy makes me happy. I’m an hour from the ocean in one direction and an hour from mountain forests, trails, and waterfalls in the other direction. There’s an abundance of lakes and rivers nearby for kayaking. I feel like I can easily travel to revive my mental health without a huge time or distance commitment.
When I do take a more extended vacation, I love visiting North Carolina because that’s where my daughter and her fiancé live. Those trips are all about love and relationships, and I definitely experience them mindfully, with my full attention and soul, so I can be present and relish every moment.