The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as "a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his/her community."
Mental health is undoubtedly an integral factor in living a fulfilling life.
Mental illnesses can range from more common conditions like anxiety and depression to less common ones, like bipolar disorder.
The NHS.uk reports that 1 in 4 adults suffer from mental illnesses during their lifetime. Furthermore, it has been argued that mental illness may also lead to physical illness.
However, the gravity of mental health is still often overlooked in our society. Mental health is as important as physical health and requires as much nurturing and upkeep.
Traveling is a great way to maintain mental and emotional wellbeing and, it thereby contributes to a happier and more fulfilling life.
Neuroscientific research on the effects of travel on the human mind?
Dr. Marian Diamond, a neuroscience professor who examined Einstein's brain, discovered the positive effects of traveling on the brain. She argued that new experiences could help boost cognitive powers. (Lepore, F.E., 2018)
In the year of 1964, Dr. Diamond completely changed our understanding of the brain by performing a ground-breaking experiment.
Her experiments with curious lab rats have produced the first concrete evidence of brain plasticity, i.e., that is, the brain's ability to grow and change over time.
Only a short while back, the idea that life experiences could affect the brain was considered absurd. Scientists strongly believed that genes determined overall intellect; in other words, the brain's potential was inherited rather than developed.
But now, because of the findings in neuroscience, we understand that the world around us can enhance our cognitive performance. (Barnard-Kelly, K.D)
So what does this mean for us? How can we improve our brain function?
The answer is simple—your environment.
- Dr. Diamond discovered that the rats raised in enriched environments with other rats to interact with and plenty of toys had a thicker cerebral cortex than those raised in impoverished environments with no other rats or objects to play with.
- The same principle applies to the human brain.
- Every enrichment to your environment, from gaining new experiences and going places to challenging yourself mentally and intellectually, propels the brain's action, leading to growth and redevelopment.
- Scientific research suggests that one of the best ways to enrich our environment and lives is travel.
- How does traveling change your brain as well as your life?
People in this fast-paced world tend to get stuck in their daily routines. The mind can quickly get sick and tired of doing the same things over and over again. Luckily, we live in a world with abundant opportunities to shake that routine up by getting out there and exploring.
Every new destination prefaces novelty to the mind, activating the cognitive networks that keep your brain refreshed and healthy.
Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist from the University of Pittsburgh, says, "When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts,"
You're flooded with new experiences from the moment you set foot in an unfamiliar place. To process all of these stimuli, you need to begin to train your brain as if it were a muscle. (Diamond, M.C., 2001)
However, instead of dumbbells
Train your mind with new sights, people, activities, languages, flavors, and more.
All the novelty and unfamiliarity that comes with traveling stimulates new connections between the nerve cells in the brain, which in turn revitalizes your mind.
Have you ever returned from a trip and felt like you were born anew and a different person altogether? That's your brain growing.
Now that you know the benefits of travel, where are you going next? You know your mental health requires it. (O’Doherty, D., De Cock, C., Rehn, A. and Lee Ashcraft, K., 2013)