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Try to think about the first time you used your passport. Touching down on foreign soil you’ve never explored is an exhilarating feeling, one that many travelers find addicting, right from the start. But in addition to providing bragging rights for the destinations you’ve explored and the stamps you’ve collected, traveling also provides mental health benefits that psychologists say are unparalleled to any other experience. If you often feel low or struggle with anxiety, booking a trip could be the medicine you need to feel calmer and, believe it or not, happier.

RELATED: 6 perfect jobs for people who love to travel

“It can be easy to get stuck in our own patterns and grow bored of our daily routines, but travel can provide a much needed break and lead to invaluable personal growth and development,” explains Dr. Jennifer Gentile, Psy.D, M.M.H.S., a psychologist who treats patients via LiveHealth Online.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, let’s explore the ways your next trip could actually make you a healthier person:

It gets us out of our own heads

If you’re depressed, you spend a lot of time in your head. And even if you’re not clinically diagnosed, it’s normal for every person to go through ebbs and flows of satisfaction, depending on what’s happening at their job, in their relationship or their friendships. But instead of dwelling on everything that is wrong or could be wrong, psychologist Dr. Kevin Gilliland explains that traveling makes us get out of our head, our routine and our downward spiral. By providing a new perspective on how life could be in other parts of the world, the planet—and your problems—seem smaller.

“When we are outside of the normal pace and demands of our life, we can think about it in a way that is difficult in the midst of the struggle,” he explains. “And we are thinking about it in a different context, on a beach, a mountain, or a foreign city and culture. Different places can generate different perspectives.”

It forces us to use a different part of our brain

Even years (or decades) beyond graduation, you should still challenge yourself to learn new concepts and polish your skill set. One way to engage your mind and strengthen your cognition is to travel, according to psychologist and author Dr. Mike Dow. Not only does getting out of town add miles to your credit card points but it can also keep your brain from losing its youthful energy. “Creating mental maps of new cities and new places, speaking in a foreign language, or learning how to use public transit in a new city all prevent the brain from aging [because] brains age when they are not challenged,” he explains. “The more we challenge it and change it, the more our brain creates new connections. Like a bank account, the more we have the more we can afford to lose. This can even help you to prevent symptoms of dementia as you get older.”

It helps us prioritize happiness

When you and your friends or your partner decide to go on vacation together, you probably don’t wake up in a panic to get to the beach by a certain time and snap at each other because they forgot to hang up the towel in the hotel bathroom. As Dr. Gilliland says, people are often the best version of themselves when they’re in a new place, mainly because instead of putting obligations first, they’re prioritizing those feel-good vibes. Especially in a relationship, traveling can strengthen your bond and help relieve the anxiety you might be festering about your connection. “Work, kids, family: They can all create distance for couples, even when they are all great. Stepping into travel, we can put those things on the shelf and be present with our partner. We have the space for conversations, for experiences, and for time uninterrupted,” Gilliland says.

And if you’re single? The same idea applies. Because you’re out of your routine and away from the dating scene that might stress you out, Dr. Gentile notes that jet setting out of that comfort zone can help us realize there are other lifestyle practices that we might enjoy. “Travel can help us identify our priorities in life in a unique way,” she explains. Meeting other people from other cultures and identifying with their way of life can inspire you to shift old habits or possibly make a move.

ALSO: Relax! With Orbitz Rewards, you know you’re getting the most back on your travel.

It’s a natural relaxer

There’s a reason so many therapists recommend taking a trip after a difficult time like a breakup, a death in your family or just the end of a job that wasn’t a match for you. Being away from your daily chaos allows you a real opportunity to, well, relax. In addition to clearing your head, traveling reveals the chance to emotionally disconnect from everyone else so you can connect to yourself and what you need. “It can provide a mental and emotional respite and time-out from many of your responsibilities you have back home,” says Los-Angeles based psychologist, Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D.  “By having time off and getting away, you increase your odds to come back to your ‘regular’ life feeling better psychologically, as well as being more productive and energetic.”

It can change your personality for the better

Think an old dog can’t learn new tricks? Dr. Dow says think again: Traveling  can fundamentally change your personality, exposing you to inspiration across the globe that evokes an emotion that you never knew you had. Instead of defining yourself by who you’ve always been, traveling argues the opposite and asks a different question: Who do you want to be?

“We know that personality traits are not as hardwired as we once thought. In fact, your travel experience can have a profound effect on changing parts of your personality that may hold you back,” he explains. “Are you a shy, neurotic, sensation avoider who isn’t open to new experiences? Travel can teach you just how outgoing, easygoing, sensation seeking, and open you can be as you step out of your comfort zone, talk to new people, and take a zip line through the rainforest.”

It makes us more mindful

When you’re walking through one of the cobblestone streets in Paris or trekking up a colorful hill in Lisbon, you notice every finite detail, from the way the wind blows the flags in front of stores to the chatter you hear from cafes you pass. But when you’re in your own town? You decide to put in your headphones or turn up the volume on your radio in an effort to get home ASAP, without much interaction with another person. This can be an isolating way to function, especially if it’s part of your daily commute. That’s why traveling teaches us to be more mindful of our surroundings and be in the moment.

“I hear people tell me all the time how they seem to be on sensory overload when traveling, taking in so much ‘new,’” says Gillilrand. “While traveling, we tend to savor the moment more, we try to set a memory of it, thinking ‘I want to remember this’ or ‘I never want to forget this place.’ We connect to the beauty and joy that we can miss in our everyday lives.”

We remember how to play

One of the parts of travel that you’ll always remember, no matter where you go or what you see? How you gave yourself permission to let go and play. While most adults spend the vast majority of their childhoods enveloped in games and make believe, once responsibilities seep in, we forget how to be silly and relaxed. “Play gives us a chance to do something we are a little apprehensive about, not sure if we can do it but really want to,” says Gilliland. “We put ourselves in situations that we think we want to be in; we’re not sure, but hopeful. Play is just as critical throughout our life and travel is one of the places we tend to do it well.”

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Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay is a lifestyle and travel writer, and content strategist. She is a passport stamp collector with an affinity for great wine, coffee and conversation. You can find a full collection of her work at lindsaytigar.com.
Lindsay Tigar

@lindsaytigar

Writer. Traveler. Editorial Director at ClassPass. Avid boxer and yogi. New Yorker. Lover.
Lindsay Tigar

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