It may seem obvious that travel can leave people feeling relaxed and restored, but a recent study says it’s the first of its kind to explore the link between tourism and mental health, specifically for vulnerable groups like people with dementia.
The researchers concluded that tourism can provide dementia patients with “relaxing and memorable experiences that stimulate neurological functioning,” and recommended using it alongside pharmaceutical treatments.
And it’s not just people with dementia who can benefit from getting out of the house and exploring the world. Those who suffer from mental health issues, like depression, may also find particular relief using travel as a form of therapy.
“Think about how important it is for you to unwind after work, or how many of us look forward to the weekend,” neuroscientist and clinical social worker Renetta Weaver, who was not involved with the study, explained to Verywell Mind. “We all need ways of mentally and physically escaping. Our brain is always seeking a way to help us blow off steam and re-establish a feeling of balance.”
“Traveling out of the country can also help us shift our perspective and remind us that our problems are small compared to the largeness of the world; the world extends beyond our corner,” she added.
For those for whom travel isn’t possible, Weaver shared that meditating and imagining yourself in a faraway place, like a beautiful beach or mountain scenery, can have similar mental health boosting benefits. In other words, your brain can’t really differentiate an imagined vacation from a real one.
“Neuroscience teaches us about the plasticity of the brain and the possibility of recovering the parts of our brain that we thought we lost. Traveling can lead to the release of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which cause our bodies to heal and function well,” Weaver said, emphasizing the importance of stopping to smell the roses.