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This is your brain on traveling

Megan Swann
A picture off the promenade at Seaside, Oregon.

Madison Whitver, a mental health professional working in Weber State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center, remembers her most relaxing vacation as when she visited Jamaica on her 16th birthday.

She recalled meeting new people, experiencing a new culture and jumping into crystal clear water at a beach party just for kids.

“I think that vacation has really helped my family in and of itself feel reconnected with each other, even though it was years ago,” Whitver said. “Traveling can be very beneficial for mental health. What we are typically seeing is that Americans are not using their vacation hours, so they’re spending more time at work, which tends to increase stress levels.”

Whitver said that traveling gives many health benefits. By decreasing stress, travelers can see a reduced risk of heart attack and heart disease. They can also see an increase in happiness and sleep quality and an improvement in relationships. Additionally, planning vacations can increase happiness at least 8 weeks out before the vacation.

Travelers can also come back with increased cognition and faster thinking due to lower levels of stress, Whitver said.

However, with college and work bringing their own unique stressors, it can seem that decreasing stress is easier said than done. This is the case for Abbie Jones, a recent graduate of psychology and child development.

“Now I think they’re great, I look forward to them. They’re breaks from work,” Jones said of vacations. “While I was in school, I almost dreaded them because vacations are stressful as a student, I would say. I’d argue that you just either have to be on top of school work and get it done in advance or you’re worried about it the entire vacation.”

Whitver said the best way to maximize the mental health benefits of these trips is to make an effort to stay in the moment. Travelers need to leave those worries at home as much as possible; the goal is to be intentionally present.

“Putting away social media, putting away the cell phones, the work emails … really helps you be more in that moment to really soak in all the benefits,” Whitver said.

Jones explained that while traveling, the brain absorbs and processes a lot of new information. New faces and scenery cause neurochemical rushes and create dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. This rush of information can provide a distraction for students from whatever is happening at home.

“They need something new to process. They need something fresh on their mind. They need to just explore, to get out of their cycle that is the life of being a student,” Jones said.

Traveling itself can cause a few worries, the airport being one of them, but Whitver said there are measures travelers can take to ease the process. Bringing a favorite snack, traveling with someone else, getting to the airport early and having a set routine can help.

“One of the things that I like to suggest is always bringing either something to cover your eyes or noise-canceling headphones when you feel safe and comfortable. Pairing that with deep breathing or just mindfulness breathing within the airport can actually really reduce anxiety levels,” Whitver said.

When it comes to international travel, there can be even more layers of stress for students to navigate. With the changing of cultures and traditions, visiting other countries brings more challenges to its foreign visitors. Recent Weber State multimedia journalism graduate Lexie Andrew holds this view on traveling internationally.

“International travel, even though I love it, slightly stresses me out, especially if you have connecting flights. Each airport is so different, and customs take forever, and there’s a million different checks that make you question if you make it your next flight,” Andrew said.

Andrew recalls her most relaxing vacation was a cruise she once went on over spring break with her family. This was the first time Andrew went on vacation in which she did not bring her laptop or homework. Not having to worry about school and work gave her the opportunity to live in the moment and enjoy spending time with her family.

Traveling gives students the chance to break away from the day-in and day-out activities of life, experience new places and have eye opening experiences towards different lifestyles.

“Traveling makes me feel like I’m living. It’s out of the normal routine of life. I get to see new places, experience new things and meet new people. Even if it’s the smallest trip like up to Bear Lake, a place I’ve pretty much grown up in, or a new country I’ve never been to,” Andrew said.

When it comes to traveling, Andrew prefers to travel by plane, but on the other hand, Davis Tech nursing student Daniel Hernandez’s preferred method of travel is a road trip. Hernandez feels there is more freedom with travel plans when it comes to driving.

For many, the preparation stage of planning a trip can be the most stressful aspect of travel. With all of the different destinations to possibly visit and having to keep a mental list of what needs to be packed for the trip, the weeks or months of planning can take a toll on a travelver’s mindset.

“Before the trip, there’s more stress that comes with planning, packing, and trying to get everything that needs to be done. After the trip, I feel more appreciative of my regular day to day life,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said that a trip can make a change to his mental health. Traveling brings an adventurous feeling to life and is a refreshing change from the busy schedules of life, even if it does bring some stress into the picture.

While these stresses may exist in the lead-up to the vacation, Whitver said that studies show that the benefits of traveling greatly outweigh the drawbacks. A vacation may be just what students need to rest and prepare for the upcoming school year.

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About the Contributors
Megan Swann
Megan Swann, Culture Editor
Cooper Hatsis
Cooper Hatsis, Culture Assistant Editor

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