VACATIONS AND MENTAL ILLNESS

Summer is upon us, and summer means it’s time for vacations. Vacations offer time to recharge from the stresses of work, and can give us a change of scenery, a chance to visit other places and learn about other cultures. But vacations, especially those involving travel, can cause stressors of their own.

Any vacation takes you out of your usual routine, which can be both good and bad. It can be good because it may enable you to get more rest or it can break you out of a dull rut. A change in routine can help you to see things with new eyes, gain a different perspective. On the other hand, any change can be stressful. Our routines keep our lives ordered, and some of us find that very comforting. If you throw travel into the mix, you have not only a disrupted routine, but also an unfamiliar location. You are out of your comfort zone both figuratively and literally.

When you are on vacation, you spend more time with family and friends than usual. It’s great to visit and renew ties. But there’s a reason films like Chevy Chase’s classic “Vacation” movies exist: Family and friends can be tough to be around all the time. During vacations, tensions in relationships can be exacerbated. Ever notice how many families fuss at each other on trips? At a central train station recently in Europe, I noticed three women crying; one of them was me. It’s not just those of us with mental health problems that experience vacation stress. It’s pretty common. You’re rushed, you’re tired. You may be in a different time zone, which messes with your body’s usual sleeping and eating patterns. People get cranky and more easily irritated than usual, even people without mental illnesses.

So, should we never take vacations? Of course not. Vacations, whether taken at home or on the road, are one of life’s great pleasures. I love learning about other cultures and seeing new places. But we all have to learn what works for us and what doesn’t. My boyfriend and I decided to decrease the length of our next big trip. We also plan to pack lighter so we don’t have so much luggage to lug around (and, yes, I did intend that pun). On this trip, as opposed to some we’ve taken in the past, we made it a point to get more sleep and to stay hydrated, which meant that neither of us got sick this time. So, we’re learning.

Have you experienced vacation stress? What did you do to minimize the stress and maximize the fun?

HuffPost had an article entitled, What It’s Like to Travel With A Mental Illness, As Told By Comics, which provides illustrations of travel with specific mental illnesses. Check it out here.

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