As I mentioned in Part 1 of my series Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically, life on the road can be challenging. From rig breakdowns to loneliness, from inclement weather to lack of funds, a nomadic lifestyle can be difficult. Dealing with mental health issues can be one of the challenges of life on the road, especially without the infrastructure that may have helped keep issues in check in the past.
Last week I covered some of the physical steps you can take to help maintain good mental health (or improve your mental health if it’s not so good at the moment). From getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods to exercising in sunlight, I outlined steps you can take to keep your body and mind doing well. Today I’ll go a little deeper and share ideas for advanced activities aimed at maintaining and enhancing mental health.
#1 Have a support system in place. While you’re doing ok, set things up in advance of a crisis. Stock your pantry with healthy foods so you don’t have to think too hard about eating if times get tough. Have spare cooking fuel available too. Make sure you always have plenty of drinking water on hand. Have sleep aids (over-the-counter options like Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom SleepTabs and natural remedies like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium) available for short-term use if sleeping becomes a problem. Make a list of people you can contact for support if you are feeling down. Maybe you want to write out your mental health plan to refer to if you get too anxious or depressed to remember how to nurture yourself.
Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge… can be stressful.
Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
Don’t let stress build up. Deal with problems as they come. Don’t let bills, mechanical problems, health issues, and relationship challenges pile up until you have so much on your plate you think your head will explode. Believe me, I understand that hiding under the covers feels simpler than dealing with the problems of life, but most of these problems will not go away on their own. Dealing with each problem as it arises will be easier than dealing with multiple problems that have each reached a crisis point.
There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.
Want to reap the benefits of meditation, but you’re not sure where to begin? Read “Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits, and a Beginner’s How-to” for explanations of different meditation techniques and instructions for a simple meditation for beginners.
#4 Live in the present. Whether or not you decide to meditate, you can practice living in the moment. The Just Mind article “Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now” references author Eckhart Tolle and his idea
that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. [Tolle] attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present…
Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now…
Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds…
#5 Be grateful and track your gratitude. According to the Positive Psychology article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief” by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA,
[p]sychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone.(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)
Another article on the Positive Psychology website (this one by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc.) lists 28 benefits of gratitude including a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression; enhanced optimism; improved sleep; and reduced blood pressure.
Research has also shown that “by consciously practicing gratitude, we can train the brain to attend selectively to positive emotions and thoughts, thus reducing anxiety and feelings of apprehension.” The simple act of reminding yourself of the positive things in your life can invoke feelings of thankfulness and optimism that make managing stress, depression or anxiety easier.
The article then lists several exercises for practicing gratitude including the following:
Try to appreciate everything.
Find gratitude in your challenges.
Keep a gratitude journal.
If you need some suggestions for starting or maintaining a gratitude journal, Courtney E. Ackerman’s article “Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary” offers lots of information and guidance.
#6 Practice Positivity. The WebMD article “What Is Positive Thinking?” answers the question this way:
[p]ositive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation….
That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.
The article says positive thinking can lead to “better mood, better coping skills, [and] less depression.” More importantly, positive thinking is a skill that can be learned! Check out the article to find out how to nix the negative and put positivity in action.
#7 Laugh. In the Psych2Go website article “5 Mental Health Benefits of Laughter,” author María Emilia Guzmán explains that when we laugh, our bodies release hormones that enhance good feelings and balance moods, while working against hormones related to stress.
When we laugh, our bodies produces endorphins, which are considered to be the “happiness hormone”. We also release the hormones dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are in charge of our motivation and balance our mood. All of these substances fight several mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety…
…laughter also combats hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are released as a response to stress, increasing our heart rate and causing general discomfort.
If you’re feeling low, listen to a funny podcast, read a funny book or article, or watch a funny movie. If you’re laughing, you might just feel better soon.
Pet owners [sic] are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets…
Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax…
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch…Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
If you don’t live with an animal friend full-time, consider pet sitting, volunteering at an animal rescue, or spending time with a friend or family member’s pet.
[f]ace-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.
The article continues quoting Pinker who says that, as a result of social interaction
dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.
How’s a nomad to stay connected to other people? Attend gatherings like the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the ones listed by Vacay Vans for 2020. Read my blog post “How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road” to learn more about Meetup groups, the Wandering Individual Network (WIN), Loners on Wheels, and a dating site for RVers. Some groups, like RVing Women and Sisters on the Fly, allow gals to hit the road together. Other RV groups like Xscapers and Escapees accept people of all genders and relationship statuses.
#10 Volunteer. When you volunteer, you not only get to interact with other living beings. According to the Able To website, there are 6 more mental health benefits of volunteering. Some of those benefits include reducing stress by “tak[ing] our mind[s] off our worries and putting our attention on someone or something else,” combating depression by “keep[ing] the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical,” and making us happy because “feel good [sic] hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities.”
#11 Engage in a hobby. The CBHS Health Fund website offers the article “Here’s How Finding a Hobby Will Improve Your Mental Health.” Some information gleaned from the article:
Western Australian adults…who dedicated 100+ hours a year to their [hobbies] reported significantly better mental health than those with 0-99 hours dedicated…
658 young adults took part in a daily diary study, recording how much of their time was spent on creative exercises, and how often they felt positive moods (joy, alertness, interest) and negative moods (anger, fear, contempt, nervousness, anxiety)… More time spent with creative activity produced higher levels of positive affect.
Even if you live in a very small space, you could take up photography, writing, painting on small surfaces, knitting or crocheting with limited colors of yarn, making jewelry, or bird watching.
#12 Ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. If you are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the free, confidential 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. (You can also chat with a trained crisis worker if you go to the Lifeline’s website.)
If you don’t know how to do something related to life on the road, go to the Cheap RV Living forums, read old posts, ask questions, and seek advice. There are also lots of Facebook groups for vandwellers, RVers, and nomads, but with Facebook comes trolls. I don’t recommend Facebook for anyone in a fragile state of mind.
#13 Use technology to your advantage and try online therapy and mental health apps. According to Talkspace,
[o]nline therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist from the privacy of your device — at a significantly lower cost than traditional, in-person therapy.
Because online therapy and mental health apps don’t require you to go into an office to see a therapist, you can connect to a counselor from anywhere you have internet access. Sounds like a perfect arrangement for nomads who may not stay in one place for long.
Interested in online therapy and/or mental health apps but have no idea where to begin? Verywell Mind offers a list (complete with in-depth reviews) of “The 9 Best Online Therapy Programs of 2020” compiled by Amy Morin, LCSW. The Psycom article “Top 25 Mental Health Apps: An Effective Alternative for When You Can’t Afford Therapy?” by Jessica Truschel highlights mental health apps available to smartphone uses dealing with issues ranging from addiction to anxiety, depression to eating disorders. There are apps to help with general mental health, as well those intended for specific issues. Many of the apps are free, but some do come at a monetary cost.
I hope among these thirteen additional suggestions you find some ways to improve and/or maintain your mental health. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, so plan for some trial and error while you try out different activities.
Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please seek the help you need. If you need to speak to a mental health professional, someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) may be able to help you find resources in the area you are in.
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