Escape? Well… maybe. Not escape, exactly, but just like literal medicine helps lessen or alleviate physical symptoms of an illness, travel can help with mental health. Just being outdoors among the trees (a Japanese public health practice called forest bathing or shinrin-yoku) has been shown to lower the heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being. Mind and body are connected, so when one benefits the other does, too!
In this post, I want to share a how we use travel, spirituality, and mental healthcare to deal with our PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Both my husband and I have felt the words in the graphic below and we have begun to rise above them with the help of our new lifestyle.
Travel – I don’t have as many panic attacks, flashbacks, or nightmares when I’m traveling. It doesn’t cure me but it serves as a very effective grounding tool. I’m not in my own head when I’m hiking Mount Ranier, walking the streets of Venice, planning our next RV Campground stop in the US, or navigating the intricacies of a different culture or language. It’s mindfulness in action and I love it. It refreshes and recharges me in both an intellectual and spiritual way to see magnificent sights whether in the US or abroad. Spiritually I see the wonder of Jehovah God’s creation and it solidifies my faith that there is a source of life and love bigger than anything I can imagine. Intellectually it challenges me to understand and push myself to go outside my American CityGirl comfort zone.
Spirituality – Many addiction programs ask you to work with the concept of a higher power. There is a strong correlation between addiction and trauma. So those who suffer from trauma based disorders like PTSD can also benefit from asking their higher power for help. I can attest to the fact that developing a relationship with my creator, living according to His standards, and communicating in prayer with him regularly helps me greatly with the ups and downs of life. To read more on how the Bible can help you if you are depressed, read this article for some encouraging scriptures.
The references below (1, 2) on spirituality and mental health affirm that “aspects of spirituality are associated with positive outcomes, even when trauma survivors develop psychiatric difficulties such as PTSD or depression. Research also indicates that healthy spirituality is often associated with lower levels of symptoms and clinical problems in some trauma populations. For example, anger, rage, and a desire for revenge following trauma may be tempered by forgiveness, spiritual beliefs, or spiritual practices.”
Mental health maintenance – I have and use a medical team for my depression and anxiety. So does my husband, who suffers from combat-related PTSD. Just like you need treatment for diabetes or heart disease you need treatment for mental health disorders. Sometimes that means treatment in hospital. In general, a good daily routine of positive self-talk or affirmations, grounding/ mindfulness techniques, and using adaptive coping responses like journaling when needed. When the fear overtakes me, even before I realize I’m having an anxiety attack, I start grounding, try a coping response, and then take medicine if needed – in that order. Sometimes I still succumb to the overwhelming fear, sometimes I cry, sometimes I dissociate. But, as soon as I’m able to get myself grounded again I utilize the skills I’ve learned in treatment to keep moving forward.
- Hood, R.W., Hill, P.C. & Spilka, B. (2009). The psychology of religion: An empirical approach. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, p. 179.
- VA National Center For PTSD. “Spirituality and Trauma”. (Website). https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/provider-type/community/fs-spirituality.asp