Even depression sufferers whose conditions are well-managed can suffer flare-ups when they leave the familiar comforts of home. At its worst, traveling for work, family, or friend obligations is an unavoidable disruption to your carefully crafted routine. At its best, a routine-shakeup in the form of a getaway can improve depressive symptoms, but then traveling itself can become overwhelming. Knowing how to manage depression while you’re traveling can be useful no matter which category your trip falls into. Common depression symptoms while traveling include sadness, lack of motivation, increased sleep, feelings of isolations, self-doubt, and difficulty making decisions, according to licensed independent clinical social worker Melanie Shapiro.
Travel can be “a chance to gain a healthy perspective on your everyday life,” licensed psychologist Dr. Gregory Kushnick tells Bustle. He suggests journaling your daily reactions while traveling to underscore its positive effects, saying, “The feeling of being removed from everyday life offers an opportunity to evaluate your choices.” Furthermore, traveling can be a useful opportunity to start something new, even a gesture as simple as incorporating a healthy habit into your regular routine. As always, mindfulness about how you’re feeling will go a long way in helping you manage if a sudden bout of depression sets in while you’re traveling. Here are some other tips to keep in mind, according to experts.
1Have A Plan & Unstructured Time
Making plans is the best way to beat back the feelings of indecision and overwhelm that can trigger a lack of motivation or bring on a sudden depressive episode.
“Consider creating structured and unstructured time while traveling,” Dr. Kushnick says. “Continue with the rituals and routines that bring relief from depression, but also go off-script to add a sense of novelty and flow, which at least temporarily improves symptoms.”
Shapiro says, “Having information and a plan ahead of time can help with the decision-making process when you have your itinerary planned ahead.”
Dr. Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist, also suggests having your medications ready to go, including carrying the prescription details with you on your trip in case something happens to them. Make sure you have enough meds for the duration of your travel, plus a few days’ extra in case you get stuck. And, of course, keep your psychologist, psychiatrist, and/or primary care physician’s telephone number handy in case of emergency.
2Manage Your Expectations
If you delight in meticulously researching your travel plans and making an elaborate itinerary, then you may have to accept that there will be a gap between the trip of your dreams and what actually happens. Otherwise, the feelings of disappointment that come up could trigger a depressive episode. “Very often, people create unrealistic expectations about what they will accomplish, how good they will feel, or how much of an escape travel will be,” Dr. Kushnick says, citing feelings of isolation as an unexpected trigger people encounter. “Prepare for these feelings and keep your expectations in check.”
Dr. Klapow suggests finding a balance between taking breaks when you feel overwhelmed and pushing yourself through moments when you feel unmotivated. “Depression is going to make you feel like giving up,” he tells Bustle. “One day, one evening, one hour is fine, but commit to going through the motions for the rest. You will find that even going through the motions helps you mitigate some of the depression symptoms.”
3Be Kind To Yourself
“When someone is struggling with depression, it is easy to see all the negative aspects of traveling,” Shapiro says “Sometimes just going on the trip is an accomplishment itself!”
Knowing what triggers your personal symptoms, whether it’s stressful situations, lack of sleep, or feeling disappointed, is key to stepping in before things get too hairy. “If you feel like symptoms are getting worse when these things arise, then regroup, take a break, and rely on others to help you through,” Dr. Klapow says.
Depression can be isolating enough in your day-to-day life, so make an extra effort to shore up your support system before traveling. “Have someone help you with your plan or identify resources for when you travel, and know who you can reach out to if your symptoms get too hard to manage,” Shapiro says. “Also, you can check with your therapist if they offer phone or Skype sessions.”
5Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Especially if you’re traveling for pleasure, an afternoon’s worth of day drinking on the beach can really catch up with you. “Many people do not maintain an accurate appreciation for the way in which alcohol destabilizes your mood about 36 hours after excessive intake,” Dr. Kushnick says. “If you’re feeling depressed, avoid increasing your alcohol intake while traveling to avoid deepening your mood difficulties.”
6Strategize Around Your Personal Symptoms
Knowing how depression shows up for you is important for managing it effectively. Is it your sleep that’s poorly managed? Do you suffer from low energy and lack of motivation? Are you a person who struggles with memory or concentration? Bring those symptoms to the table when you’re strategizing a management plan with your care team. Here’s how Dr. Klapow might navigate a few common symptoms:
- “If fatigue and energy levels are a challenge, then look at your itinerary and don’t over do it. Pace your activity so that you aren’t taking on more than you can handle on one day, only to find yourself laid up the next.”
- “If sleep is a problem, then know where you are staying, bring creature comforts from home (like a pillow or blanket), and contact the hotel ahead of time to assure you are placed in a quiet section. Set an alarm so you don’t oversleep.”
- “If motivation or anhedonia [loss of interest in activities you typically love] are a challenge, then try and engage in those activities that seem most interesting or interesting at all. Write down and commit to attending a certain minimal amount of events and activities that you know you can do.”
7Take Care Of Your Body’s Needs
Remember to take care of your body’s physiological needs; it’s an underrated method of keeping symptoms in check. “Movement and exercise, exposure to daylight, good nutrition and hydration, and adequate sleep will help reduce any symptom flare-ups,” Dr. Klapow says.
Ultimately, preparing yourself for a trip with the help of your care team, going with the flow, and acknowledging and accepting your feelings and can help make travel a little easier on everyone. But especially for depression sufferers, it can mean the difference between a disappointing day and a full-blown depressive episode.