If you live in a part of the world (or during a time of year) where sunlight hours and strength are depleted, it can have an impact on physical and mental health. When experiencing loss, people often say that a holiday will help. But why?
Sun and dark are beneficial
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep.
With less sun exposure, serotonin levels can drop which can lead to a drop in mood, depression (and what used to be called “seasonal affective disorder or SAD”).
When sunlight goes in through the eye it cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin.
So yes that extra serotonin can help if you are struggling with low mood.
Taking a holiday
When someone dies, whilst we all experience grief differently, many people feel isolated and disconnected.
Deciding to travel as a conscious way to grieve can pull us out of that isolation and provide insight, healing, transformation, relief, peace, and more.
Travel brings simple distractions. This in itself can help us to retrain our attention into the moment, to be present, to find solutions. Simple tasks like buying flight or train tickets, finding a hotel, think about things we want to see and do, or goals, are all considered important and beneficial steps.
But what type of trip might be the best for you? It’s important to know what you need to get from a change of scenery and to minimise additional stress that this might bring.
And if the planning feels too stressful or overwhelming, why not ask a friend or close family member to help with details or even join you on the trip. Having someone you trust accompany you at this sensitive time can be just the added support you need to make this trip happen and to enjoy it.
Type of trip
Dr. Karen Wyatt, a hospice physician and the founder of End-of-Life University Blog, defines six categories of grief travel to consider when making plans.
- Physically active
Not ready to engage fully with the whole world around you? Maybe visit a friend, or family for a short while. Or travel to a retreat. One that has mindful and trained support, where they prepare meals and provide a restful environment can be just the thing to disconnect and also reconnect with the world gently. Design a playlist of songs which stimulate relaxing, happy feelings to go with you. Find scents that soothe and lift your senses and try to stimulate your senses with baths, textures, tastes and smells.
There is no quick or easy way out of grief and it is important to feel the emotions as they are moving through rather than avoiding or burying them.
Grief is one of our greatest teachers. It cracks us open – Ram Dass
Honouring your feelings of loss through a mindful practice meant to bring about a state of peace and self-compassion can be a critical part of mourning. Adding an element such as meditation into your daily travel can be transformative. Try journalling, daily reading, podcasts.
Many people work off intense emotions through physical activities – from yoga to hiking, biking and kayaking. For an adrenalin rush take on a new challenge such as canyoning or abseiling. For regular activity why not take up a new sport. Endorphins (the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals) released during exercise combined with the focus of learning a new skill are beneficial, elevating mood, lowering tension and pain. And they can also lead to new social support and friendships.
Visiting a spot where you shared special memories and commemorating that person through a ceremony or ritual can be very healing.
Personally I took a trip with my father to places in Ireland he and my mum loved to be in their early life together. This opened up space for conversations, hearing stories I hadn’t heard before and feeling connected. It helped us both share something special as part of our grieving.
You can commemorate in many ways – write a letter, release a favourite flower along a river, organise a trip with friends and family to a favourite park for a picnic, or hotel, or to the theatre.
Sometimes when someone dies we realize we have unanswered questions. Maybe questions about your history, family, early life. Arranging a trip of discovery can be very healing. Spending time researching, organising and speaking to people is distracting. You can visit relatives. Look at military records. Visit places from childhood. Look for photos in archives from their life, where they lived. Visit museums, watch films from their childhood, listen to the music. Trip Savvy is a great site that connects you with travel companies that specialize in genealogical trips to make the most of your time away.
Some people feel revitalized by the unknown, wandering with little or no plan to let life happen. Learning to listen again to your intuition can lead to surprising and enriching encounters and experiences. Even if most of your trip is planned out, consider leaving some time free to explore and get “lost” in a city, have random conversations with people on the bus, or a taxi driver. Maybe this is exactly the type of medicine for the body, mind and soul you need to reconnect with your “normal”. Give yourself permission to take a “grief-cation”.
Travel can help us remember that the world is full of joy, of meaning, love and beauty.
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind – Anthony Bourdain