By Dr. David Woo - July 31, 2023
Whether due to pressure from work or a difficult life situation, sometimes we can feel stuck in a routine that’s not good for our mental health. The new experiences offered by travel can be a great way to break a negative pattern or find some relief from the triggers of depression or anxiety. Maybe the change in seasons always brings down our mood–what is known as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder–and a change of scenery would do us good.
Whether you have a familiar spot you like to go to relax each year or you enjoy the experience of exploring new destinations, travel can sometimes do wonders for our mental health. As we think about our mental health in summer, let’s consider the benefits of travel for our well-being.
Relief From Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression is real and can take the form of summer seasonal depression as well as winter depression. In the case of winter depression, a lack of sunlight can affect our body’s ability to produce melatonin and serotonin–both chemicals that play a role in regulating our mood. Less sunlight could explain why winter-pattern season affective disorder is more common in countries that experience much less daylight during the winter months. In these cases, a trip to a sunnier destination during the winter could be just the trick to expose ourselves to more daylight and boost our mood (1).
Summer depression is a different story. In this case, the environmental factors linked to depressive symptoms are high heat and humidity levels. These factors can disrupt the body’s production of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin—all brain chemicals associated with mood and body temperature regulation (2,3). Pollen and allergies have also been connected to summer seasonal depression and can affect our mood (4,5). Patients with summer seasonal depression can experience relief from symptoms by traveling north to cooler climates during the summer months (6).
A Break From Anxiety Triggers
For some people with anxiety, their daily routines of work, family, or social life can be stressful and sometimes trigger their anxiety symptoms. The simple act of taking a vacation can calm a turbulent mind, especially if we have a stressful work routine. One study has shown that the stress-reducing effect of a short break can last up to forty-five days after the trip (7).
Aside from the benefits of relaxation and distance from our triggers, the new experiences associated with travel can recharge our mental energy and expose us to new ways of looking at the world and our own lives. After a good vacation, we can come back with the energy and the fresh outlook we need to try to solve our problems in a new way or make positive changes in our lives.
Limitations Of Travel For Mental Health
Travel can be a fantastic mood booster, but we cannot rely on it as an easy cure-all for our mental health problems. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition, it is important to seek treatment. This usually takes the form of talk therapy or medications. If medication isn’t effective in relieving your symptoms, then transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be a good option for you.
TMS is a non-invasive treatment that has proven effective for anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. It works by applying a head-mounted device called a coil to the scalp, which sends tiny, barely perceptible magnetic pulses to the brain that stimulate the neural connections needed to regulate your mood. TMS is safe, non-pharmacological, and has been FDA-approved for cases where medication has proven insufficient.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, TMS may help you find relief. Madison Avenue TMS & Psychiatry provides talk therapy and TMS to treat a variety of mental health conditions. Contact us online or call (212) 731-2033 to make an appointment for consultation or treatment.
- Zal, H. M. “Seasonal affective disorder: helping those who suffer from ‘winter depression.’.” Consultant, 1991;31:1:65. Gale Academic OneFile. link.gale.com/apps/doc/A10393530/AONE?u=anon~a4a80a11&sid=googleScholar&xid=a024b73e. Accessed 18 June 2023.
- Chauhan NR, Kapoor M, Prabha Singh L, et al. Heat stress-induced neuroinflammation and aberration in monoamine levels in hypothalamus are associated with temperature dysregulation. Neuroscience. 2017;358:79-92. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28663093/. Accessed June 17, 2023.
- Lõhmus M. Possible biological mechanisms linking mental health and heat—a contemplative review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(7):1515. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30021956/. Accessed June 17, 2023.
- Postolache TT, Lapidus M, Sander ER, et al. Changes in allergy symptoms and depression scores are positively correlated in patients with recurrent mood disorders exposed to seasonal peaks in aeroallergens. ScientificWorldJournal. 2007;7:1968-1977. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18167612/. Accessed June 17, 2023.
- Manalai P, Hamilton RG, Langenberg P, et al. Pollen-specific immunoglobulin E positivity is associated with worsening of depression scores in bipolar disorder patients during high pollen season. Bipolar Disord. 2012;14(1):90-98. https://pure.johnshopkins.edu/en/publications/pollen-specific-immunoglobulin-e-positivity-is-associated-with-wo-4. Accessed June 17, 2023.
- Could Summer Depression Be Seasonal Affective Disorder? Psychiatry Advisor. 2019. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/mood-disorders/could-summer-depression-be-seasonal-affective-disorder/. Accessed June 17, 2023.
- Blank C, Gatterer K, Leichtfried V, Pollhammer D, Mair-Raggautz M, Duschek S, Humpeler E, Schobersberger W. Short vacation improves stress-level and well-being in German-speaking middle-managers-a randomized controlled trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(1):130. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/1/130. Accessed June 17, 2023.