Holiday season is upon us. But taking a vacation is more than just a fun diversion from the day-to-day grind. There’s a growing body of scientific evidence that shows travel is very good for your mental health.
Travel can lower the risk of depression.
The growing appreciation for the need to protect our mental health appears to be changing how we vacation. A whopping 81 percent of American travelers say they regularly take vacations where a primary goal is “mental wellness,” and they overwhelmingly see a vacation as a chance to “hit the reset button” on stress and anxiety (91%).
Travel can rewire your brain.
Scientists used to believe that the brain was only changeable during childhood, but now widely accept that neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to change — is present throughout your life.
Want to maximize your brain’s neuroplasticity? A change of scenery wakes up your brain and takes it off autopilot. You have to think about small things when you’re in an unfamiliar place, which is entirely the point. Learn a few words of a different language, take a walking tour, or even something as simple as trying a new food can get those neurons firing.
Just anticipating a vacation can make you happier.
When we look forward to doing something fun, it triggers a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This helps explain why simply having a vacation on the horizon tends to make us happier.
The happiness doesn’t disappear when the trip ends.
Not only does planning a trip make you happy, but the emotional benefits of travel stay with you long after you’ve returned home.
Travel can make you more creative.
During one study, the researchers theorized that travel forces you to think in different ways and develop “cognitive flexibility”, which is a key component of creativity.
Travel can improve your personality.
Does our personality change when we get outside our comfort zones? There’s evidence that living abroad for even a short time can affect core personality traits, particularly the one known as “openness to experience”. People with high levels of openness tend to seek out new experiences, be comfortable with the unfamiliar, and be more introspective than those lower on the trait, who can be perceived as closed-minded.