The Secret Side of Travel Therapy
Last night eleven travel therapists all crowded around a long artificially distressed wood high-top table found at the back of one of the many trendy bars in San Luis Obispo, CA. Initially meeting with the intent to discuss the applicability of a research article on our home health patient population, the conversation quickly side tracked, meandering in a million seemingly meaningless directions. Smaller conversations split off and then reconvened, intertwining, mixing and remixing throughout the night.
Three hours later smiling faces exchanged hugs and we each headed off in our own respective directions. Not a single word regarding the beautiful, and slightly arduous, Meta-Analysis I had selected ever being uttered.
This ALWAYS happens. And it is perfect.
Four months ago when I proposed these get togethers I had found myself in the midst of a depressive funk that I just could not shake. Now, without the nasty details, I do have a rather long history of battling with depression. I have adopted tactics and habits, both prescribed and self discovered, that have drastically stabilized my mental state and kept me “funk-free” for quite a while (having an amazing wife helps as well). While having a single particularly blue day is still not uncommon for me, extended periods of apathy and self deprecation have largely been a thing of the past. This bout was different however.
While the extent of these feeling, both in severity and duration, varies from person to person, the one constant is that we all have dealt with them in some form or fashion.
Not only was I feeling low and gloomy in one of the most beautiful locations we have ever been, but so were a whole handful of the other travelers in our area, my wife included. What was so frustrating about our situation is that objectively we should never have been happier. Amazing location – making more money than we ever have – strong marriage – working for a wonderful company and recruiter. Even now going through this list makes me feel like an entitled cry-baby. But there was no denying it – We were unhappy.
As we continue in our journey as travelers we continue to meet others who, like us, experience these hard times. While the extent of these feeling, both in severity and duration, varies from person to person, the one constant is that we all have dealt with them in some form or fashion. Loneliness, apathy, discontentment, whatever descriptor fits best, it is a challenge that presents its self to nearly all of us.
In my usual style I did some reading, researching, and revisiting of strategies for happiness and well being. I have included a few of what has worked for us. By no means is this list exhaustive. It is simply a few of the action points that I have incorporated into my daily life that have had the largest impact in a positive manner. Obviously, it goes without saying (but Ill say it anyways) if you are having scary thoughts about harming yourself or others please seek professional counsel. It works…trust me.
I have always known that exercise brings about a more positive wellbeing but never has it been more evident than during this last down spell. I had just finished my second 50 mile race of the season and it had come only 3 weeks after a brutal mountain marathon. Needless to say it was time for some rest and recovery! Bring on the ice baths, the foam roller,…the depression??? I found myself to be so fatigued after this final race of the season that I needed 8 weeks off from running. Too tired to entertain the idea of going out for a short jaunt around the neighborhood or up the nearby ridge I kept my butt firmly planted on the couch, remote or book in hand. It was not until El and I were racking our brains for ways to get out of our collective funk by taking a hike on a smooth meadow trail did we finally realize what we had been missing.
We began incorporating some hikes up the local “mountains” (I was still too fatigued to run well) to get the heart rate up and I started going to the gym to put some meat back on my bones. The change was nearly miraculous.
One of the most powerful tools in managing depression is also the most difficult to wield. Depressive states are often inaccurate mental representations of life events, past, present or future. Being able to recognize the incongruence and fallacy of these self-told stories is a tall task in its self, but most of us are capable of making this recognition after a day or two of feeling poorly. The couple of strategies here are helpful exercises to begin influencing your mindset which will in turn start to buoy your mood.
Learning to build a positive framework or filter through which to see your life is immensely beneficial. For someone who, like me, struggles at times to see more than the negative side of the coin, forcing my mind to seek out a positive perspective is a challenge, but it never goes unrewarded. Taking advantage of the benefits of controlling your perspective takes effort, but in time “predictive encoding” will occur, essentially priming your brain to expect a positive outcome and be more readily able to identify that outcome once it occurs. In his brilliant book The Happiness Advantage, Harvard professor Shawn Achor essentially says that when we train our brains to get in the groove of positive thinking, suddenly our entire world seems to be filled with positivity, possibility, and opportunity.
Yes, this is all backed by science.
(Remember, perception is reality. In our article about interviewing and negotiating we touched on this topic only in that case you are managing someone else’s perception of you.).
So Ill be right up front with you about this one. I am not exactly what you would call a “touchy – feely” type of guy, and after hearing people like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss, and others, discuss the benefits of having a “gratefulness practice” I was more than a little woo-woo-ed out. But stick with me here. As many of you who have dealt with tough times may now, when you’re feeling down and cannot seem to find a way out you will try anything.
Tony Robbins talks about how being in a state of gratitude makes other negative emotions or though patterns impossible. The experience of gratitude is incompatible with feelings of anger, resentment, or fear.
The practice I adopted was to list three new things I was grateful for each morning (see the 5-minute journal for other ideas). At first it seemed like a cursory task, but after the first few days of trying to list novel gratitudes I really began to realize how many “little things” there are to be grateful for. The warm sun on my face when I read each morning, the smile and wave of a stranger, or the sly sleepy smile of my wife waking up next to me. Simply getting into the practice of identifying things I was grateful for made it far easier to see life’s silver lining. Even when one thing went terribly wrong there were a dozen others that went right and now I could let joy begin to creep back in.
Reduce/Eliminate Social Media
Without going on a long tirade about the detriments of social media I simply want to point out two things to keep in mind when using social media.
1. It is highly addictive
The small burst of dopamine that your brain receives with each “like” or “share,” or even with each upward scroll of your thumb, is highly addicting and has cumulative effects which often make the activities of everyday life feel dull. If you find yourself reaching for your phone in the middle of a conversation with someone or before you even say good morning to your spouse thats the dopamine craving at work.
2. It is not real!
Unless your friends are the stream of consciousness type of posters, most users are displaying the highlight reel of their life. How do you think that will make you feel when you yourself are in a less than perky mood? If each of your 400 Facebook friends does one super cool thing, once a week, and shares it on social media, that is 57 jealousy inducing posts each day that you are subjected to.
True, social media can provide a temporary escape from the present, but it cannot replace the present. The feelings you are having need to be addressed and actively confronted to get back on track to living the life you have always wanted.
As I have discussed previously on this site, moving frequently can make establishing and building community a challenge. We are social creatures, and no matter introverted you may be, human interaction is vital for mental wellbeing. However, in the technologically advanced world we live in, it is easier than ever to find and connect with like-minded people in your area. This excludes online dating. Seeking romance in with single person, no matter how exciting and fulfilling, is not a healthy substitute for true community. Providing for all of your social interaction needs is an unfair task to request of your partner.
Meetup groups/Facebook groups
Meetup is one of the first sites I explore when traveling to a new location (Facebook less often). I join groups of all sorts. Pick-up Soccer games, group bike rides, hiking/running clubs, even photography and meditation groups. Now, while I have only gone to a few of the actual meetings, hitting them all is not the point. The goal is simply to create multiple opportunities to establish connection with other people (for me, I generally hit it off with one of the soccer crowds). Once connection is made you can opt in or out of other events.
Make your own
Sometimes taking the initiative can been intimidating and uncomfortable, but it is also a great way to curate the experience you are seeking. Many companies that hire travelers often have multiple travelers at once. This means there are others at the company who are just like you! Simply ask your manager for their contact info and shoot out an email. This is what we did most recently. Initially starting with six travel PTs our “rehab date night” as we call it has grown to 13-15 PT’s, OT’s, and a couple of spouses. We have chosen to meet once a week at different locations around town for drinks/dinner. Sometimes we try to review an article but mostly we just hang out.
From these groups we have built some amazing friendships. Travelers truly have a sort of kinship. Camping trips, surfing lessons, alpine hikes, and dozens of lazy days at the beach later we have a found friendships that will last far longer than the length of any contract.
And if none of that helps you can always try “something completely different”…
by Stephen Stockhausen
Call for comments: What are your strategies for being more positive and making connections? We would love to hear them!