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Check out my interview with AJC on Traveling for Mental Health

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Mental health trips add meaning and transformation to your travels

In March 2021, around half of American adults reported negative impacts to their mental health from the pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And as travel begins to return to normal, some are seeking mental health trips.

Mental health tourism is the idea of traveling or seeking wellness retreats solely to improve one’s mental well-being and mindfulness.

How do mental health trips differ from a normal vacation?

Holidays offer a break from normal routines. Oftentimes travel can be good for mental well-being, as new experiences provides cognitive stimulation, according to Edith Cowan University.

Yet, planning these vacations can be exhausting, time-consuming and stressful. If you’re maximizing the most out of your holidays, you may come back feeling tired and have the “post-vacation blues.” While vacations can reduce stress, the happiness you may feel on vacation isn’t long lasting, according to Healthline.

“People may return from trips wanting to take a vacation from the vacation. Because if they haven’t intentionally planned that trip to focus just on relaxing or (if) unforeseen things come up like flight cancellations … that can be exhausting,” licensed mental health counselor Shama Panjwani, Ph.D., told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Trips are a way to escape reality and enjoy life, and when people return, they’re also coming back to their reality. It’s possible that they don’t want to be there, in that reality.”

Mental health trips, however, are designed to be transformative in nature. They allow you to reflect on your life and come back with tools or clarity to incorporate on a daily basis. Raghav Bhalla, president of the travel company Equinox Travel India, curates mental health trips and meaningful travels to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.

“We create wellness experiences, which would not just work with the body, but we also have extensive experiences that we provide … and give you tools like meditation and analytical meditation,” Bhalla told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s almost like an emotional and a mental detox. But through certain concepts, certain teachings, certain understandings and certain practices.”

“The purpose of a mental health trip is to practice gratitude and reflect and gain clarity. So, if you truly feel relaxed you know what you’re coming back to. And hopefully the point of the mental health trip is that you come back with a different perspective to your actual life,” Panjwani said.

When planning a successful mental health trip, you should consider these three things, according to Panjwani:

Location and setting: The purpose of mental health trips is to rejuvenate. Consider going to an area surrounded by nature, whether that’s the beach, lake, mountains, etc.

Are you planning to bring a friend or go solo? If you’re bringing a friend, make sure they have the same intention of making your trip mental-health focused.

Unplug: Remove yourself from school, work or social responsibilities to truly focus on yourself. This means not checking emails, social media, or even texting your friends and family.

“Mental health trips don’t have to be elaborate. They could always also be a day trip — you could just drive somewhere and spend the day there and come back. But overall, this is for people who just need a break,” Panjwani said.

Wellness retreats in Georgia

Wellness retreats offer a holistic approach to mental health. According to Panjwani, they help you focus on your mind, body and spirit. Holistic health approaches don’t require you to be spiritual or religious, because they focus on becoming present with yourself. These retreats can teach you skills or give you tools that you can add to your normal routine.

“Compassion is very important. So, if it can focus you in that direction, any wellness retreat that incorporates a change in your mind or in your emotions, is something that one should look out for, not just something which is a quick fix. There are no quick fixes in terms of how to deal with your mind,” Bhalla said.

Some wellness retreats in Georgia include:

Elohee, in Sautee Nancoochee, focuses on yoga, meditation and art to promote self-discovery and healing.

The Ignatius House uses Catholic Jesuit tradition to create a peaceful retreat. You can go for a class or spend an entire weekend at the retreat, where you’ll focus on mindfulness, meditation and reflection.

Tybee Wellness Retreats offer holistic experiences on Tybee Island where you can practice yoga and guided meditations right on the beach.

Kadampa Meditation Center is a Buddhist center that offers weekly classes and events focusing on meditation, prayer and mindfulness.

Coming back from a mental health trip

Whether you visit a nearby nature attraction or travel across the world, a successful mental health trip gives you the opportunity to rid yourself of distractions. These trips can teach you ways to view your own mental health. You may come back with new skills in meditation, yoga or other mindfulness practices. The trick is to continue these practices and incorporate what works in your daily routine.

Panjwani suggests setting a specific schedule or time each day to practice what you’ve learned in your trip, whether that’s mindful healthy eating, getting enough rest, exercising if your trip involved hiking, yoga, or meditation without any distractions.

“This time is for people to focus on themselves. So, there may be times when life worries may come up in forms of thoughts or feelings. And it’s OK to acknowledge them and reflect on them but … focus on practicing gratitude as opposed to dwelling on what’s wrong in your life,” Panjwani said.

Bhalla said he finds that after returning from these trips, his clients report feeling mental and emotional shifts.

“They feel like (they have) ,a more sense of understanding on how they can work with their emotions, how they can work with their minds how they can work with their bodies and their diet and begin an understanding on how they can work with the future,” Bhalla said.

You don’t have to be struggling with a mental health issue to go on one of these trips.

“(Mental health trips are for) anybody who wants to make themselves into a stronger, kinder, more peaceful human being,” Bhalla said.

“I think that everyone should go (on mental health trips),” Panjwani said. “(Those who) feel like they’re struggling to maybe get up to go to work because they dread their jobs. Maybe they’re struggling in terms of family obligations, and they are facing a lot of stress. Students who may be really struggling with schoolwork in addition to other responsibilities. … But overall, anyone who’s stressed — which I believe at this point, we’re all stressed — can really benefit from a mental health trip.”

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Anagha Ramakrishnan

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