Get a dopamine holiday hit
‘Seeking new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioural tendency in humans’, explains Psychologist (and contributor to BBC2’s Secret Life of the Airport) Miriam Akhtar pointing out that the sense of anticipation, excitement, novelty and curiosity we feel around travelling releases the neurotransmitter dopamine (often dubbed the ‘happy hormone’). Those heady feelings of excitement, tinged with fear, as you plan and get ready for a trip should psychologically take you on a journey. This, along with the break from your usual routine when you are away, helps you to reduce stress and avoid burn out. It also gives you precious time to nurture the relationships in your life. Miriam adds, ‘Travel really does broaden the mind – you are discovering new cultures and experiences and alternative perspectives which can help change or enhance your world view. Curiosity is also related to dopamine and one of the traits most connected to happiness and life satisfaction.’ Research shows that feeling good about life doesn’t just improve your mood, unsurprisingly, it makes you healthier too.
Exciting as going away is, preparing for it can be stressful. The thing is if we run our immune system ragged in the run up to our holiday by the time we actually reach said holiday, we are often sleep-deprived and running on adrenalin. We then might hop on a plane and expect our immune system to fight off every bug circulating in the cabin. Little wonder so often we get on our long awaited holiday only to be struck down struck down by a migraine, cold sores or colds and stomach upsets. Even if you are not travelling abroad you can still experience anxiety around whether you’ve organised everything (did you turn the iron/heating off, lock up properly, pack the right clothes etc). Websites like theholidaylet.com provide checklists and useful packing advice plus there are apps available that provide similar help like the Vacation Countdown App – free from the App Store. If you feel particularly under pressure taking a herbal tincture like A.Vogel’s Stress Relief Daytime, £4.50 can help.
Avoid ‘leisure sickness’
It is one of the great ironies of life that we set off on our hard-earned holiday only to come down with a cold or a general feeling of, well, feeling unwell. An actual condition known as ‘leisure sickness’ has been identified by psychologists where some people find it difficult to adapt from the stress of work to a state of relaxation. They can then experience flu like symptoms including headache, nausea, fatigue, aching muscles and low mood. Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and/or taking supplements, trying to reduce stress and exercising can all help you to make the transition from adrenaline-fuelled stress to more chilled out state in which to enjoy your holiday. There is also compelling evidence to show how the herbal remedy echinacea can help you fend off any impending lurghies. A review of studies from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in 2014 concluded it could reduce the chances of catching a cold by approximately 58 per cent and reduced the length of it by 1.4 days. A. Vogel’s Echinaforce Sore Throat Spray, £10.99 is a convenient way to take it when travelling – use it a few weeks before you travel, when you are away and for a week or so when you get back.
Get your stomach covered…
We don’t want to put a dampener on things but if you are heading oversees the mix of travelling, the change of food, water, routine, and possibly time zone, can all play havoc with your digestive system and you do run the risk of coming down with the old Montezuma’s revenge or traveller’s diarrhoea (TD). Unfairly, some people are just more sensitive to stomach problems than others and TD is known to affect up to 60% of us when we go abroad – usually in response to bacterial contamination from food or drink. Gut flora can be highly sensitive to new and alien bacteria so it makes sense to protect yours as far as you can. Probiotics appear to help by cultivating a healthier balance of intestinal bacteria in your gut. Eating probiotic foods regularly before you go away like natural unsweetened yogurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink) and other fermented food will help but to further reduce the chances of getting sick on your trip ideally start taking 1-2 probiotics daily at least two weeks before you head off. Try Healthspan’s Super 20 Pro, £18.99 and if you do succumb to a dodgy stomach try Silicolgel, £8.29 (Superdrug) – which forms a protective and soothing coating over the lining of the stomach and intestines.
Going away in a bid to recharge and rejuvenate and then not being able to sleep can be a bit of a nightmare but being away from your usual routine, jetlag, drinking too much or going through the menopause (possibly all of these) can all disrupt it. A Harvard trial involving the over 60s (the group most likely to experience sleep disturbances) showed those who did mindfulness meditation found it easier to get to sleep and stay that way. Investing in a mindfulness app like Headspace and taking that away with you should help.
Traditional herbal remedies like valerian have also been found useful – a 2006 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found it improved sleep quality by 80 per cent compared to a placebo. Another traditional herbal sleep-enhancing remedy is hops: find this mixed with valerian in tincture form in A.Vogel’s Dormeasan Valerian-Hops Oral drops, £4.15 (Holland & Barrett).
Reduce jeg lag …
A small study from 2008 has also shown how jet lag can be eased by taking Pycnogenol, a pine bark extract, (in the study participants took it three times a day, starting two days before their flight). Pycnogenol has also been used to help protect against leg cramps and treat conditions associated with poor circulation like DVT. Additionally, it has also been shown to reduce hot flushes and night sweats and improve skin quality – which leads us on to …
And take your carry on…
If you are on any regular medication and are off to foreign parts, remember to pack it in your carry-on hand luggage just in case there is any mix up with your baggage at the other end of your journey. If you take prescription drugs or equipment you also need to keep them in the original clearly labelled packages with a copy of your prescription and should check how much you are allowed to take with you. For more advice check the NHS website or Travel Health Pro a site set up by the Department of Health advising how to travel with your medicines. For more free advice about what jabs or medication you might need you can also check in with Superdrug’s clinics.
About the author
Miriam Akhtar MAPP is a leading Positive Psychology practitioner and an expert on the science of happiness. She works as a trainer, coach and consultant, and is a highly engaging keynote speaker. Miriam is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression and What is Post-traumatic Growth? and was one of 100 global experts invited to contribute to The World Book of Happiness.
Her work has been featured in newspapers and magazines including the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times, Psychologies, Top Santé and Men’s Health and she has made many BBC radio appearances, including on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.Last modified: June 10, 2021