Staying one step ahead of my anxiety and depression is a constant battle, and I have discovered that I do better if I have something to look forward to, like a vacation.
You probably already know that taking a mental health day from work is good for you. Now you also have an excuse to pack your overnight bags and get the hell out of dodge, too. That’s right my friendlies, traveling with friends is good for your mental health. Studies suggest that the mere act of planning a vacation that you don’t even take has myriad mental health benefits.
On the other hand, research has revealed that traveling too frequently for work is actually bad for your mental health because work travel and vacay aren’t the same thing. This is 100-percent true for me. When I first started taking travel writing assignments, I thought I’d hit the jackpot.
As a girl who grew up lower-middle class in Ohio’s rust belt, traveling was a luxury my family couldn’t afford. I could hardly believe that traveling, for free, to five-star locales all over the world was an actual job and that the job was mine.
However, the shine quickly wore off my new gig after I discovered that travel writing is not a vacation. It’s actually hard work that has you going from one activity to the next for 12-16 hours a day, and I found myself getting burned out AF. So much so that I began to dread traveling, and it actually made my anxiety worse.
While I know I am beyond lucky to have these opportunities, not taking any time for myself was not only affecting my mental health, it was also making me physically ill. This past summer I made a promise to myself that I was going to plan at least one trip that was purely for pleasure so I could begin to enjoy traveling again.
With this in mind, a good friend and fellow Lady Gaga devotee and I decided to road trip to Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga’s “Enigma” residency at the Park Theater at Park MGM. And you know what? Having that trip to look forward to for the past six months got me through some tough times during the holidays because Gaga was my light at the end of the tunnel days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. When all I wanted to do was sleep, I told myself, “Get up for Gaga.” As it turns out, this is not an anomaly.
“The act of taking time away from your daily routine is enough to relieve stress, to help you relax, and rejuvenate. Our daily demands can be a distraction from what we find to actually be meaningful, engaging, and interesting,” Dr. Lindsay Henderson, Psy.D., a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online, tells I AM & CO. “Travel can help take your mind off stressful situations and leave you feeling calm and content.”
If you take a road trip to Vegas (or anywhere), and you have the cash, rent a fabulous car so you can live your best road-trip life like the late Hunter S. Thompson in his book “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.” “My first advice is that you should rent a very fast car with no top and get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours,” Thompson wrote in the book of ultimate Vegas debauchery. Following this advice, my friend Erin and I procured a red Nissan Altima with a sunroof and smart features like Apple’s CarPlay (it’s just as awesome as everyone says) that ensured we wouldn’t get lost during our 48-hour escape from L.A.
After you rent the car, disregard everything else Thompson advises in his book unless you want to spend your vacay hiding under the hotel bed because the designs on the carpet have come to life (and if you haven’t read this book, drop everything and do it right now).
With our weekend car that was far nicer than the cars either of us owned, we hit the road with a curated playlist, drove through the desert and left work and all of our responsibilities in the rearview. I committed to letting those eleventy-million emails go unanswered. And as soon as we got out of the city, I felt the weight of so many months of constant work lift from my shoulders. Sort of like taking off a heavy coat I didn’t know I was wearing.
“There are many documented mental health benefits to taking time off from work. While it can be difficult to truly get away from work, we know that productivity, creativity, and energy all suffer without regular vacations and time off,” Dr. Henderson says. “The stress of work can carry over to physical and mental health as well, as rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation are critical for our minds and bodies. Even if exotic travel is not an option, everyone benefits from time off, and it can be made even better by exploring your local area.”
Erin, who is a filmmaker, made sure we took the time to stop and capture our adventure because the journey is half the fun. We had a blast snapping and filming everything and strutting through the casinos in our leopard and tiger print gear like we were starring in “Ocean’s 8.” We also treated ourselves to Asian fusion at the restaurant Best Friend where one of Gaga’s backup dancers got engaged a few nights later. (Seriously, if you only eat at one place in Vegas, this is the one. It looks like an old storefront until you’re escorted to the back room where you can feast on things like kimchi fried rice while grooving to an in-restaurant DJ.)
Aside from being replenishing, traveling with friends can also build other skills you can use in your everyday life once you get back to reality. “Traveling to new and different places, particularly foreign travel, can help you expand your ways of thinking and understanding the world, and even lead to a reinvention of parts of your life. Travel can also build confidence and develop independence and flexibility, which does wonders for an individual’s mental health,” Dr. Henderson says.
“These skills follow you home and can be applied to make you a more interesting and adaptable person in your day-to-day environment. Try to reflect on what you are experiencing or learning while traveling and make efforts to bring that back with you when you return to your normal life.”
And while solo travel is good for you, grabbing your girl squad and hitting the road can actually produce all the good feels in your brain, according to a study published in the journal Behaviour. Basically, being surrounded by your besties releases oxytocin, the chemical that helps you feel happy, in your brain.
While I 100 percent would have gone to Vegas alone, going with one of my good friends made my experience more enjoyable because I had someone to share it with. If you’re feeling fried, anxious or depressed, while traveling with friends can’t cure mental illness, it can be a useful part of your treatment plan. And if you don’t think you need a work-free vacation, think again.
“Millennials entered the workplace attached to a technology device, increasing the reach of work into their personal lives. Today is a 24/7-on culture where work and life are integrated and the work/life boundaries for millennials are blurred. Compound that with the fact that stress is cumulative over time. To make matters worse, millennials unfortunately have been shown to be the group with the most underdeveloped stress-management practices,” Lauren Kiraly, operational director for TEDxAmsterdamWomen, told Renee Moorfield for Thrive Global.
“Because of the effects of chronic stress, the body quite literally begins burning out. We’re seeing health trends within the millennial population that support this, such as increasing rates of infertility, colorectal cancer and diabetes, and rising cases of anxiety, ADHD, and depression,” Kiraly added. Personally, I don’t know a millennial woman who isn’t burned out, and it’s beyond time that we take back our lives.
Conversations in my friend circle often start with phrases like, “I had a breakdown today and cried in the bathroom.” In addition, I know many, many women, myself included, who have left toxic jobs with no other employment lined up because of persistent burnout. This is a problem that Lady Gaga addressed during her acceptance speech in 2018 at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's third annual Patron of the Artists Awards.
“I wish there had been a system in place to protect and guide me. A system in place to empower me to say no to things I felt I had to do. A system in place to empower me to stay away from toxic working environments,” Gaga said.
"I’m telling you this because for me, it was too late. I needed help earlier. I needed mental health care. I needed someone to see not through me or see the star that I had become, but rather see the darkness inside that I was struggling with. I wish I had mental health resources because, although what I have is treatable and can hopefully and will get better over time, if there was preventative mental health care accessible to me earlier, I believe it would not have gotten as bad as it did," she added.
If you, like Gaga, look like you’ve got it all together on the outside, it seems like you’re living your best life on social media, but you spend more than a one day a week crying from work stress, it’s time for a totally work-free vacation to reset your brain and rejuvenate your spirit. Grab your girls and head out of town for 48 hours. Commit to not checking email at all. While it might seem like everything is an emergency, unless you’re a brain surgeon, the world will keep turning if you take more than a few minutes to reply to a message.
Until this country values mental health and work/life balance, it’s up to you to set boundaries to protect yourself. Taking time to take care of yourself is not selfish, it’s necessary. You 100-percent deserve a mental health vacation, so start planning one ASAP. Trust me; it’s worth it, and more importantly, you’re worth it.