It may sound weird to you, traveling long term and visiting the most beautiful countries and places and getting depressed. But it is not strange at all. I know many long-term travelers that suffer one way or another from burnout to a bore-out to even severe depression.
Depression assaults some of us and promotes all those feelings we do not want to feel while laying on a beach under a palm tree, or walking in the forest. It is your mind starting a battle with the oppressed negative feelings that you do not allow yourself to feel, since you are so lucky, look at you, traveling and loving the life you live. Right?
There is nothing more miserable than walking in a happy 2 weeks vacation tourist crowd feeling no connected and horribly negative.
And when you try to release some of those feeling onto your social media or to family and friends, the people there emphasize that double level in your mind, for come on, look at your life! It is amazing, you are such a privileged person.
The melting pot of feelings when you travel is only discovered when on the job
Trust me, most feelings are happy feelings. Feelings of awe and feeling small in the beauty that surrounds you. The warm water around your feet, the amazing views from mountain tops, the taste of spices, and the smiling people. It is overwhelming in a wonderful way.
But it takes up energy you might need to balance out the underlying growing unhappiness. And if you do not take moments to ‘time-out’, to stop and think, or feel, you might get off balance and that is the moment you are vulnerable to less happy feelings.
You glance at the poverty you are traveling through, or you simply find a hotel room not home anymore, and you start to lose the feeling of being comfortable with yourself. You have a major setback of any kind and it tips you over the edge.
It can be an array of feeling that bother you, and you probably have oppressed them for a while, neglecting the alarm system going off in your body.
not fitting in
and even grief over the life you left so happily behind, including friends and family
You are on your own, especially when you are solo traveling
You are constantly on your own, even when you travel with a companion for long stretches of your journey, still, you are thrown back to yourself to solve problems and handle the bureaucracy in foreign countries and maybe even financial setbacks.
You struggle with cultural, social, and language barriers, feelings of security, and more important insecurity. The question “What if….” is a feeding ground for lingering unhappy feelings that can start live a life of their own and take over all your happy travel plans.
And believe me, I am not being gloomy here, it happens. And it happens a lot. When you travel you take yourself and the way you handle stress with you. And although from the other side of your backpack and visa the grass might look a lot greener over there, you soon realize that it is not.
It has different shades of green and those nuances are only spotted when you plant your feet on foreign soil. You are still you, only now you no longer have that social network to rely on, there is a huge time difference, and all those back home still think your grass is greener.
So what to do when you feel depressed?
I think the most important part is to accept it for what it is. Accept it as part of life happening to you. Do not fight it under the pretense you are not allowed to feel this way because you are fortunate and supposed to be happy all the time. Nobody is happy all the time. Let alone travelers.
It is because we travel so. much, so intense, for such long periods of time we do not have a regular physician, so it might be hard to see a doctor and get help from professionals. But I do suggest that if the methods and tips below do not offer you relief and your thoughts are going in a way that is too dark to handle, you do try to find professional help or at least some medication, either herbal or chemical.
But let’s try to fix this ourselves first, okay, after all, we are strong, we travel the world, we know how to drag ourselves through a tough day, so we can do this!
15 tips and tricks to help you get through depression on your own
Please also read the explanation, it will be encouraging and refreshing, and not at all what you might think. For, being an experience expert, I have my own interpretation on the regular tips your read on the internet for fighting depression. I find those standard tips very true but also very boring and not at all motivating.
A daily routine, sounds so boring, I know, but even a daily routine can allow you to go with the flow if you can still handle that. What I mean by daily routine is getting up at a certain time, taking a daily shower, cooking a meal, or going out for a meal at a set time. Fixed moments in your day, even as simple as a morning coffee before you start with anything. Try to set a daily routine. Not too strict, but with anchor points in your day. Set your phone to silent from f.e. 11.00 PM to 7.00 AM and take a break from everything digital between those hours. Trust me, it helps.
Sleep, sleep often is a problem, (for me it is) noisy hotel rooms, neighborhoods. For me the constant noise for me of riding a motorcycle, which drains me beyond the point of being able to sleep after a ride. But your plane, train, ferry, or bus can cause serious sleep disruption. Some people seem to be able to sleep just anywhere, and sleeping all day while traveling will disrupt your sleeping pattern. Depending on your age you might need between 6-8 hours of sleep during the night. Too much or too little can prolong your depression. Try to be consistent in your sleep pattern. Go to bed around a set time, and try not to stay in bed after a certain hour (see number 1)
Food, don’t eat too much fat, junk food, and drink not too much alcohol. It will not help you to binge eat all the ice cream that you piled up in the freezer of your Airbnb. Try to eat as healthy as possible, ditch the cup noodles and burgers and get a salad and some fresh juice. Get yogurt, fresh fruit, and all the good stuff out there. Of course, there is room for some fatty stuff, but moderate, not as your prime food for every day. Try eating lots of tuna and salmon, spinach, bananas, and avocados. To name a few.
Exercise, this is always the tip where I am out, I hate exercising. IF you love it, do hit a local gym, or do like I do, go for a daily walk. You do not have to do 30-40 minutes of cardio three times a week, although they do say that is the best. But try to be and stay active as much as you can. Rent a bike and take the bike instead of the bus, be a little creative about how you like to exercise. Like beaches? Go for a beach walk, and collect some shells. stuff like that.
Be creative, if you start to do all the above, you already guessed that creativity rules to find your own way in these tips. Most “pro-tips,” write a law kind of article on what to do to fight depression, but for me, it is the freedom to create my own healthy pattern that makes it manageable. So be creative. Be also creative in other ways, pick up a book, visit an art gallery, find fun things to do, or go do that cooking workshop or dive course you always wanted to do.
Meditation, a great thing to add to your daily routine is meditation. Spending time with yourself focussing on inner peace. That might be flat on your back, legs up the wall, just listening to meditation music you get from YouTube. It will calm your thoughts, create headspace and make you more resilient for the day to come. Meditation for me is creating a bubble in which I float, I listen to music while taking in sun, I float into nothingness shutting out the world outside while staring at a horizon, or sitting in a beautiful spot trying to listen to nature. It does not have to be all spiritual and mindful, create your own way of meditating.
Helping others, I am a person that likes to help others, so this is a tricky one for me because I can do this without taking care of myself and my own situation, so please be aware that when you are like me, you’d better skip this one. you might want to buy some food for a beggar or give advice to a fellow traveler, but take care of yourself first. But they say that helping others helps you to overcome the need to withdraw that so often comes with depression.
Visit places that inspire, go inside a church, burn a candle for yourself, even when you are not religious, and try to find a way to soothe your mind and thoughts by trusting ancient traditions. Visit a ritual healer, join a moon-dance ceremony, whatever makes you happy and inspires you. It might be just an evening of stargazing in silence with a group of like-minded people or wandering through a museum that inspires you to see the world through different eyes and takes your mind off things for a while. Most of the time it will keep your mind occupied for a few hours, even after the activity, and that is what counts.
Set goals, ye right, you know that, but it is hard to keep them right? Because everything that goes beyond doing nothing takes way too much energy. But try it, the simplest goals are mentioned in numbers 1 and 2, set a bedtime, and stick to it. That gives you a start, and eat out say…..every other day? And if you feel up to it, set a departure date for your next trip, or a date you want to leave the place you are now.
Keep a journal, if you are not a writer, still try to do this, you can even use your social media for it and people will love posts like “5 things to be grateful for today”. This way you write down happy thoughts that break the cycle of unhappy ones. IF you like a journal, just start with writing down simple things, what did you do today, how did that make you feel, what are your plans for tomorrow, did you achieve any goals, or meet people? Stuff like that.
Challenge negative thoughts, if you feel like thinking negative, or you catch yourself in such a cycle, try to bend it. Or ask yourself: Is this true, or just in my mind? Are there any facts to this or is it just made up in my imagination? The journal can help with this if you write it out. Or simply challenge the negativity by countering it with something positive. For example, this is never going to work…..look at that beautiful butterfly.
Do something new, take the jembe lessons, the cooking class, or go scuba diving and discover something new about yourself. And if you have no money for that, go walk around and look upwards for a change instead of looking down, who knows what you might discover in your neighborhood. But try to do something new, I guess the tips 1-11 already provide you with some ideas of what you could do that would benefit even more tips given here.
Avoid drugs and alcohol, it will only temporarily relieve you from feeling how you feel, and you probably end up feeling worse afterward. Especially when you are actively looking for solutions on the internet to fight this. You are already in a different mindset and you do need any substance to fight this. And it is scientifically proven that the use of drugs and alcohol can enhance depression, you do not want to take that risk.
Educate yourself, keep reading about depression, know what it is, how people overcome it, and what you need to do if it sticks longer than you like, or what you need to look out for to know you’re not sinking deeper and what you need then. But also educate yourself on mindfulness, self-awareness, personal growth, find the source of your depression and make yourself resilient.
Do things that make you happy, and no, that isn’t hanging around all day doing nothing, although you may seem to think that makes you happy at the moment. What made you happy before all this? Was it a swim? A new pair of shoes? A visit to the salon? A massage? Think of things that make you happy, maybe it is birdwatching, go buy binoculars and go hiking and birdwatching, or just sit in the garden bird watching. But distract yourself from the bored, depressed, never mind I got all day, whatever, nonenergetic state of mind (and body) and go out. Pull yourself together, and do something. It might be a huge step, but you might find yourself enjoying it after all.
When you’re depressed, you have lost the knack for enjoying life, I read somewhere on the internet. You have to relearn how to do it. In time, fun things really will feel fun again.
The personal touch to a depressing article
I suffer from depression from time to time, in the Netherlands before I started traveling I took medication every other year or so. I felt useless, lost, not connected, me against the world syndrome. I still have that, from time to time, but other than 200 mg MAgnesium and healthy food with lots of greens and listening to my body I do not take any medication ever since I left the Netherland in 2015. Some days I hang on by my fingernails, but somehow I always get out of it. I do not want to die anymore, but I am not keen on living either (that’s from Robby Williams, the singer/songwriter) but I do enjoy myself for the greater part of my life. And I do not feel guilty anymore for feeling the way I feel when I am down to the bones and my heart sombers. I think that that is a relief, for every one of my readers and followers could not accept that a fortunate person like me felt the way I feel sometimes.
But the reality is I do, and that is me.
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Jeanette, a Dutch female nomad, started to travel the world at the age of 17. Walker of beaches, shell searcher, and iPhone photographer. Always horizon bound preferably on a motorcycle.
Currently, she lives in a desert village in Baja California Sur in Mexico.
She is an emigration coach and works online.
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