Surprising mental health benefits of travel


Surprising mental health benefits of travelSometimes new perspectives and unforeseen solutions only come to us once we’ve put some distance between ourselves and our familiar world. Many writers have long been aware of this phenomenon: Words refuse to come while we’re staring at the computer screen, but they suddenly flow through in a torrent while we’re walking to a café.

Movement in itself can be a great lubricant of creative ideas and solutions. But we can liberate our imaginations even more by placing ourselves in new environments. Scientific research has demonstrated that travel even opens up neurological pathways in our physical brains. It can benefit our overall mental health in many ways.

Much of this has to do with the ways in which our minds make associations. Even language itself can constrict our thought processes in some ways. When we name something it then gets filed away with the rest of our familiar world. It loses much of its power to inspire awe in us, to evoke a sense of mystery and wonder. Something familiar – like your cat, for instance – could constitute a fresh new universe to your imagination if you’d never beheld such a creature before and the word cat wasn’t in your vocabulary.

Travel puts us into environments that are filled with new sorts of stimuli, and this opens up a world of wider mental associations. Our own lives may look a lot different once they’re a thousand miles behind us. We can see our challenges in a new light once they’re no longer so physically and emotionally close. New mental associations create fresh perspectives. Suddenly there are many more possibilities than we’d previously realized. When we break an idea free of its usual connotations, we find that there are many more ways to approach it.

We spend each day of our lives not only in a particular physical climate but also in a particular mental climate. Certain ideas and belief systems – thought structures – prevail. We may feel constrained by these local thought patterns without even realizing it. Travelling to a foreign place will immediately break the mental shackles that are caused by familiarity. When we become aware that there are many ways of interpreting the world, then we learn not to hold on so tightly to our own associations.

You can witness this phenomenon at work if you engage in a conversation with someone who knows very little English. Because of the language barrier, you’ll be forced to slow down and explain certain basic concepts that you typically take for granted. In doing so, you’re likely to discover that not everyone takes such ideas for granted in the same way. Root assumptions differ from culture to culture and even from one locale to another within the same country. Travelling exposes us to these different conceptions in a way that stirs the imagination and stimulates our thinking. The experience can help to loosen rigid cognitive habits that may have been holding us back. New doors open, and the world suddenly seems filled with endless possibility once again.

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