By Sarah Bence
Read more from Sarah on her blog, Endless Distances.
Whether you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), post-holiday exhaustion, or just general dreariness reflecting the weather around you, winter can be a tough season for many people, me included. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to not just cope with the winter blues, but actually improve your mental health this winter. One tool you might not immediately think of: travel. In fact, travel can be a powerful aid for staying positive during the winter months.
While travel can be a powerful tool to help beat the winter blues, remember you shouldn’t view travel as an escape or a “fix” to your problems. Changing your location won’t change you, although it might give you some insight into whatever you are experiencing back at home.
Here’s how travel can help you beat the winter blues this year.
1. You’ll have something to look forward to
Research has shown that anticipation of a vacation can increase your happiness. Sure, actually traveling is fun, but just booking a trip to look forward to could make a big difference in your outlook.
2. You’ll get outside more
I find getting outside is key to feeling your best when you have the winter blues, and many people spend way more time outside when they’re traveling than they would back at home. Personally, I know my step count pretty much triples every time I travel: I love to walk everywhere and really immerse myself in the destination.
3. You can head somewhere warm for a vitamin D boost
It’s thought that winter depression is partially caused by a lack of sunlight, and subsequently vitamin D. So you may want to consider planning a winter trip to a sunny destination and making getting outside more that much easier on yourself. I always plan my trips to warm locales during the winter months, and holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day make a weekend beach getaway easier to pull off!
4. You’ll get moving
Exercise is another research-backed way to combat seasonal affective disorder and start feeling better this winter. While I’m not telling you to hit up the gym every day of vacation, I do believe that we naturally move and exercise more when we travel. Whether wandering a museum, climbing stairs to a monument, dancing until dawn, or just strolling down the beach, chances are you’re more active than you realize when you’re on vacation.
5. You’ll experience new sights and activities
Often in the winter, I feel stuck in a rut. It’s pretty easy to feel that way when it’s dark when you wake up and dark when you get home from work, and your day-to-day routine doesn’t change much. But travel pushes you out of your comfort zone and introduces new sights, smells, sounds, and experiences to shake up your days. Even if you head someplace cold, the novelty of the new destination will encourage you to get out and explore like you might not at home.
6. You’ll meet new people
It’s easy to feel isolated during the winter: when the days get darker and colder, many of us tend to hole up at home as much as possible. But this can make the winter blues feel so much worse. One of the benefits of travel, though, especially if you’re staying in a hostel, is the opportunity to meet new people. I find that hostels offer a low-key, relaxed atmosphere where it’s easy, even for introverts, to meet new friends through organized activities or outings.
Volunteering is another a great way to meet new people, and to do something for the common good while you’re at it. Volunteering is (unsurprisingly) shown to improve mental health, so why not plan a volunteer trip this winter?
7. You’ll reduce your overall stress and gain perspective
One of the most important steps for improving your mental health – no matter the season – is to reduce stress. Although sometimes travel can be stressful, overall it can be an effective way to take a break from daily stressors. I find that traveling puts my life in perspective, and makes my daily worries seem minute. My small worries just seem less important in the grand scheme of things when I witness grand monuments or natural sights, or am exposed to other, completely different ways of life. I return home rested, renewed, and ready to approach life’s stress with new tactics.
Travel can be so helpful to your mental health, especially if you’re suffering from the winter blues. Remember, though, that travel shouldn’t be an escape: instead it’s a way to get to know yourself better and make lasting changes to improve your mental health, even after you come home.
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