We can all agree that a refreshing vacation is good for mental health, but do the positive effects still apply if you have to take your work with you? Today the globally mobile population is rising. Corporations deploy employees overseas to grow new business and remote working arrangements allow workers to travel the world while staying connected to the office on their laptop.
Finally, the promise of new technology is paying off, giving us more freedom than ever before. And while global mobility isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it can have excellent mental health benefits.
1. Travel reduces work stress
The unspoken rules of the office are well known – one sits in front of the computer, answering phone calls and emails, completing task after task, attending mandatory meetings and preparing routine reports.
Travel snaps you out of that model, allowing you to ignore the “busy work” and focus on the things that actually matter to the business. Seeing everything from a distance helps you gain perspective on what is really important and what is not. When you have fewer competing priorities, you are less stressed and more productive.
If you have been working in the same office for a long time, your body may react with stress the moment you enter the office, because you psychologically associate the environment with stress. The 100-year-old Yerkes Dodson study demonstrated the relationship between stress and productivity – in brief, some stress is helpful for motivation, but too much stress is a productivity killer. Try working remotely, 3,000 miles away from the office – does this strike the right balance?
2.Moving your body, moves your mind
The World Health Organisation recommends that we walk no less than 10,000 steps a day, however most people have built daily routines that minimise walking. If you wear a Fitbit, an Apple watch or other health tracker, you know how far you are from the 10,000-step goal.
You can change this instantly – just grab your passport and work on the road. You will weave your way through large airport terminals, explore cities, beaches and mountain trails.
There is a mountain of evidence showing that mental health and physical health are completely intertwined. When you move your body and get your heart rate up, the happy hormones – endorphins – start flowing. The body’s stress chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline, dissolve.
In the longer term, exercise will improve your physical appearance, leaving you with glowing skin, a lean and muscular physique and a better self-image. Vigorous exercise is the best thing for your mental health and travel requires it.
3.Travel presents mental challenges and stimulates problem solving
Because everything will be new, you will always be running to catch the last bus, taking wrong turns and getting lost. On a bad day, you could lose your bag, with your keys, phone, money and identification inside. You may need to solve this problem, while being immersed in a culture and language you don’t understand.
This might not sound like fun, but the brain rises to a challenge, strengthening your memory and boosting your cognitive function.
The brain loves to grapple with a challenge. While you are solving a puzzle, the brain creates dopamine, the hormone that regulates your mood and stimulates positive thinking. When you are regularly facing complex challenges, you can expect to add a few points to your IQ score. Evidence has shown that even unrelated mental exercises will improve your problem-solving abilities. The act of solving a puzzle has been shown to reduce brain cell damage in Alzheimer’s patients and helps grow new nerve cells in the brain.
So next time you are hopelessly lost in a new place, dazzled by unfamiliar surroundings, be thankful for the opportunity to grow the grey matter.
4.Social connections improve mental health
Being globally mobile means that you will be exposed to different people all the time. You can meet fascinating characters on planes and trains that you wouldn’t meet anywhere else. Perhaps we are braver when we are out of our “comfort zone” and so we feel more able to talk to strangers.
If you aren’t a conversion starter, there are apps that will help you meet interesting people when you’re on the road – try Backpackr and Tourlina.
Connecting with others is a factor that contributes so significantly to our mental health that it directly impacts on longevity. Hundreds of studies have examined this correlation and come to the same conclusion – we need each other to be happy.
5.Strengthen your sense of self
Stress and anxiety often spring out of fear of the unknown. When you are on the road, you have to beat your own path, overcome obstacles, open your eyes to a completely different way of living and be an outsider. When you can rise to all of these challenges, you feel mentally stronger.
As a foreigner you learn more about yourself. You discover how you are influenced by your own cultural norms. You question what is right and what is best for you. You may make new, more conscious choices, building your character and sense of self.
Your mental health and agility strengthens further in your relationships with others. Finding common ground with strangers can leave you with a stronger sense of connection and faith in humanity. If you can carry with you a sense of belonging wherever you go, the world will always be a happier place.
To enjoy your global experience fully, you should make sure you are covered by the right expat health insurance plan. Check your options here.