Signs the Travel Lockdown Is Affecting Your Mental Health, and When to Seek Help
It's been nearly one full year since much of the world declared a moratorium on leisure travel—closing borders, ordering local and regional lockdowns, cancelling flights, and docking cruise ships. And while, as humans, most of us have reluctantly adapted to the way we live now out of sheer necessity and care for the communities around us, if you've felt a sense of disquiet, growing feelings of anxiety and depression, or an emotional flatness that's hard to describe? You're not alone.
Because on top of the emotional weight and worldwide grief of the Covid-19 pandemic, shifting the behaviour of a highly mobile society—avid travellers, adventurers, day-trippers, city breakers, long weekenders—to a fully stay-at-home culture has reshaped our outlooks and reined in our horizons.
We talked to therapists, travel experts, and psychologists about how to recognise signs that social distancing and lockdown might be affecting your sense of wellbeing, when to seek help, and things to try at home to feel better. Here's what they said.
Is cabin fever real?
"Cabin fever is an expression coined for people who are forced to stay in their homes for extended periods of time," says Iris Waichler, licensed clinical social worker at Choosing Therapy. "Add the additional layer of not being able to see people you are close too, imposed isolation from family and friends, and anxiety and depression are very real outcomes, not imagined. Also many people are having to work from home which creates an additional layer of isolation and change in what would be a normal routine outside of the home. People who have previous history of anxiety, depression, are at higher risk.
"Physical contact releases endorphins that create feelings of happiness," Waichler tells Tatler. "Being deprived of things that bring pleasure like a change of scenery, a change of weather, seeing friends or family who are both geographically local and farther away, reinforces negative emotions and can disrupt mood. An additional factor is the uncertainty created by the pandemic. We don't know when we will safely be able to travel which adds an additional layer of anxiety, isolation, and stress."
Without travel, people can be left without a an outlet for stress
"There's a unique sense of freedom, thrill, and mystery that navigating through unfamiliar places provides, and it's those elements that make traveling a great habit for stress relief and improving wellbeing," says Yulia Saf, founder of Miss Tourist. "With the pandemic causing travel restrictions to be imposed, people's anxiety and depression rates spiking are absolutely warranted as most lifestyle habits that we all rely on, including leisure travel, to help manage our stress on a daily basis have become inaccessible to us. Not being able to travel definitely causes a psychological downfall, especially on frequent travelers and adventurers, as it's one of the few ways people can really reflect and gather themselves after this modern day and age's fast-paced life."
Travel used to be something we could look forward to
"The various 'sheltering in place' travel bans that have been put in place over the last year have been extremely hard for everyone," says Paul L Hokemeyer, clinical and consulting psychotherapist and author of Fragile Power. "They have been especially hard on people who are used to liberal travel schedules. This is because travel is highly effective in providing an escape from the stresses and strains of life.
"Through travel we are able to simultaneously engage with our intellect and self soothe our uncomfortable emotional states like anxiety and depression. In addition, travel provides hope which is critically important to mental health. Without hope, we feel like we are stuck and become mired in despair."
For some, being grounded feels like losing a part of their identity
"Another thing to keep in mind is that for some, travel is a big part of their identity," says licensed professional counselor Mikela Hallmark. "We all have ways of expressing ourselves, meeting our personal needs, connecting with others, finding joy and creativity, and for some this happens through travel. So, when you take away something that might have been meeting real needs for fun, expression of self, creativity, connection, etc. that can really cause sadness. And, because of the pandemic, many are finding it difficult to meet their needs in healthy ways because we've been limited on what we can 'safely' do."
Related: 11 Simple Ways to Build Good Habits
What are some symptoms of travel lockdown-related depression and anxiety?
"A person's temperament and personality determine what symptoms they might experience while being quarantined," Jolene Caufield, senior advisor at Healthy Howard, tells Tatler. "Symptoms may include irregular sleep patterns, lethargy, hopelessness, a decrease in motivation, and impatience. Consider seeking professional help if you've been experiencing symptoms for months on end and if it's impeding your ability to live healthily."
Standing still for so long can be very stressful
"Staying in one place because you have to, not because you want to, creates feelings of depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep, helplessness, loneliness, sadness, isolation, and irritability," Waichler tells Tatler. "Other signs to watch for include thoughts of self harm, sleeping too much or not enough, changes in appetite and mood. Other signs of stress include physical symptoms like headaches, stomach distress, increased use of alcohol or drugs. If these symptoms remain for more than a couple of weeks and they impact a persons ability to work, ability to concentrate, and harms relationships, and day to day function, they should seek mental health support as soon as possible."
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Here's when to seek help
"I am always a big fan of encouraging people to get help at any point because it's always better to have a support network even when things OK in case things shift to a not so good space," says Brie Shelly, licensed mental health counselor and founder of The Experience. "This year, I'm encouraging everyone to stay in touch with friends and family as much as feasible, as well as connecting with a professional even if you think you're doing OK. Providers are more full than ever before, so it's better to starting talking to someone and learning tools now, which might prevent you from a bigger dip in your overall health."
If you feel stuck...
"People should seek professional help when they find themselves constantly feeling disappointed when they try to change their behaviors," Hokemeyer recommends. "Typically, I refer to this as a sense of being 'stuck'."
Not sure where to find help? Consider telehealth options
"Some signs of depression can include low mood, excessive tearfulness or blunt feelings, social isolation and withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, thoughts of suicide, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and more," Hallmark says. "If a person is experiencing symptoms, it's always a good idea to reach out for support. There are all types of options for counseling currently. With the pandemic, telehealth has become more and more accessible."
Try to create a routine and keep up with friends
"Create a routine and stick with it," Caufield recommends. "Being isolated makes us lose track of the things we need to be doing daily because we're holding time in our hands. By creating a routine of when to sleep, when to eat, and when to be active, we make more use out of the hours in a day to be more productive.
"Maintain your social life. Yes, we're all isolated right now and it's getting harder to go out to meet people but that doesn't mean you have to stop interacting with people completely. We live in a digital world and there are apps we can use to keep interacting with our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. There are a lot of ways we can use technology to our advantage to keep us from going insane during isolation. Try organizing weekly Zoom meetings with your friends or host weekly watch parties with people who are fans of the same show you're currently binge-watching."
Related: How to Start a Morning Routine
Take advantage of the gift of time
"As an adventurer, myself, I do channel my travel urges and energy in physical exercise, taking on new courses, and through virtual travel," Saf says. "The pandemic has given us the gift of time and it is wrong not to use it to improve our mental health and our physical being as well. Online courses are great alternatives for endless doom scrolling; it allows you to gain new hobbies and develop new skills which help with the upkeep of our cognitive abilities despite being isolated—it's exercise for the brain. Virtual travel is the travel industry's new normal innovation, it provides you the vacation you've been craving without having to break public safety protocols. They help curb that extreme craving for being somewhere else other than your house."
And most importantly, stay connected
"It's important that we work to stay connected even if we are physically distant," Hallmark tells Tatler. "Use your phone, bond with people you live with, find ways to connect.
"It's also important to get movement and exercise, and to consume healthy nutrients because a depressed person can be deficient in Vitamin D for instance (which we get from being outside in the sun.) Meditation can also be very helpful, and there are lots of free apps that can help you with implementing it in your life. The science is there to back all of these options as healthy ways to cope with depression."