Can becoming a digital nomad help fight your anxiety and depression?

Hey guys, I officially became a nomad in February, moving to HCMC in Vietnam. Now I’m living in Chiang Mai.

I used to suffer from really bad anxiety and depression, and have a blog that helps people who deal with them.

I wondered: could becoming a digital nomad help with these mental issues?

For the pro-side, you get to travel, meet so many people, see more things than many could hope to see in their entire life…

On the against-side, you have stress of sometimes not having money if you’re just starting out, loneliness/isolation, problem with integrating into a new culture, etc.

Wanted to get you guys’ opinions and thoughts. Do you think this lifestyle can help or hurt? Why or why not?

In my case it really does help, because being stuck in one place gives me anxiety. I’m also able to choose places that enable me to better engage in the activities that make me feel good - hiking, spending time in nature, engaging with other cultures/languages. It also helps in terms of earning enough money, as ‘home’ (London) is extremely expensive and I couldn’t afford to live in a broom closet there (and if I did I would quickly have to get onto meds and start counselling). So for me being a nomad is the best possible choice!

I think it really depends on one’s personal situation. Mental health issues are very complex, and I can imagine moving abroad having a positive or negative effect: anything from a cure, to a slight improvement (my case), to a worsening caused by additional stress (some people just don’t travel well).

As previously pointed out terms like “anxiety” and “depression” are broad mental health concepts (which get thrown around a lot). They all exist upon a continuum and have various biopsychosocial origins. It’s important for people to educate themselves on the root causes of their particular issues, as well as what might help. Nothing is a panacea.

It also depends on your personality, I find I thrive when faced with adversity. Other people, especially if they have conquered few challenges in life can crumple when faced with just a little adversity. Which is why building psychological resilience is key, whether your nomading or not. The more challenges you overcome, the easier it will be to face the next (one builds upon the next). I find having and developing a specific personal philosophy to base your life upon and work from are also important. This can help keep you centered when all around you is chaos. Tim Ferris has talked about Stoicism doing this for him many times, as well as other writers.

So in answer to your question…yes and no.

As this thread shows: I'm burn out and severely depressed from being a nomad, what should I do?

Probably not.

Trying to seek a solution to depression outside yourself is probably not a long term solution. It works marvelously on the short term though.

The best cure for depression is professional help. Obviously improving your environment helps. Flying to the other side of the world is not always a long term improvement though. As you say, isolation etc.

I’m very positive about the freedom all of this gives but one of the biggest problems the digital nomad scene is facing right now is that it’s presented as a cure-all to any of life’s problems.

That only hurts its reputation once people figure out it doesn’t change many things long term.

At the end of the day, you’re still you, you can’t get away from that.

So deal with it and seek professional help. Depression is a disease.

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As with most things in life, it depends :smile:

Becoming a digital nomad does change your surrounding environment, which can have a palpable influence on your mood. But what direction this influence will take in your case depends on the specifics of this environment change.

If, for instance, becoming a digital nomad takes you away from toxic people in your life, it may provide some welcomed relief and improve your happiness. If on the other hand it pulls you away from meaningful and supportive relationships in your life and throws you into social isolation, that’s almost certain to make you more depressed.

As everyone is saying above, I think it depends very much on the person and how the illness manifests for them and what its psychological roots are.

For me, traveling full-time helped me recognize a number of things about my anxiety and depression and cope better with them. It’s like anything in life, sometimes if you look at it from a different angle, against a different backdrop, or with different pressures, you can find a new angle on it. There was also a certain triumph in having the strength despite my depression to do something just for me. And that’s what traveling full-time was. It was something I wanted to do for no other reason than I thought it might bring me some joy. Just taking that step was a really powerful thing.

Does that mean travel cured me? Definitely no. But would I say it has helped? Overall, yes.

As @Levelsio points out above, travel in and of itself is, of course, not a cure for true chemical depression, but can it be good for you just like breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, healthy eating, dancing, or animal companionship can be good for you? Sure. Could it also be bad, especially if your anxiety is of the social variety? Sure. I think the key at the end of the day is that travel in and of itself doesn’t cure all ills and that the best course of action is always to seek help outside ourselves (therapy, etc.) as well as through our own efforts.

Thanks for writing guys.

For what most of you are saying, that’s pretty much the conclusion I reached on my blog, i.e., it depends and can change through the weeks. But, overall, I think it’s USUALLY positive in helping.

This is what I wrote on my blog. I posted a link to my original discussion, mods removed it. Maybe they thought it was spammy? Putting it here again and mods, sorry if that’s the case and I guess feel free to take it down: http://lightwayofthinking.com/does-becoming-digital-nomad-help-fight-anxiety-depression/, just trying to provide some context of my thoughts.

Stressful VISA situation? Anxiety up. New temple to see? Depression down. No friends for a week while there? Depression up.

I agree, like @youjindo mentioned on her blog, many shady folks sell this lifestyle as a cure all, or like the best thing since sliced bread… when it has it’s own problems and won’t heal you if you’re still broken inside.

Where you go, there you are”. You take your problems with you.

However overall, with the amount of opportunities and growth, I can personally say it’s pushed me and made me overall a happier person. Still have my down days (actually, one as of writing this), but they’re far fewer when I look at what’s going on and surrounding me (beautiful weather, people, temples, clean air, business opportunities, etc.).

It depends upon oneself. I’m sure most of us were ‘trapped’ in some way before becoming nomads, and the process of discovering that the nomadic freedom has a decision-making and social cost can be a significant initial hurdle (freedom is scary!). Yet if you can adapt, then it’s definitely a part of a solution.

The lifestyle is not the solution—but a medium that exposes us to things that help us develop, which if used in conjunction with an understanding of and the ability to learn about how the world works, and our role in it, can transform us. Sometimes this comes organically, as a philosophy [I recommend Stoicism ;)], other times you might need help and guidance (strangers, friends or professionals).

As in another thread about the “tiers” of nomads, there are different types amongst us and one shouldn’t pursue any other approach than the one you are comfortable with (by which I mean, not pushing too far out from your comfort zone, but nonetheless not staying within it!). For example moving every 2 weeks is going to have significant impact, you probably won’t find the social connections that provide support, but on the other hand it means you can make mistakes, learn from them, and ‘run away’ to start again without anxiety following you (maybe!). Over time you can spend longer in places and build relationships with ‘normal’ people. (We need both, otherwise there’ll always be bits missing; just surrounding oneself with other ‘digital nomads’ would be horribly insular on a long-term basis.)

I left Europe and shifted to India, which for me this was outside my comfort zone but I now consider myself a better person for those experiences, and I definitely conquered fears that being normal in Europe didn’t help with.

You’ve pretty much covered it in your blog post :slight_smile:

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In my case it helps tremendously since I have really really bad season depression and autumn and winter in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was just brutal for me… now I’m in Bali, it’s hot and sunny every day, and I’ve got zero depression… which is just so so so good.

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That has been an issue for me in Britain as well, especially after summer 2012 (the summer of nonstop downpours) followed by the winter of 2012/2013 (the extremely cold (for Britain) winter that did not end until … May? We still had snow in April!). I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to recover from that, and I’m not sure that I ever will!

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@carolyngraceelliott and @Ani I know what you mean - I’m originally from Ottawa/Toronto in Canada, where the winter is… brutal. At times -30C and snowstorms.

Now in Chiang Mai - rains for 2 hours maybe once every 2-3 weeks, 1.5 months of burning season where you hop to Bangkok or an island. Otherwise nothing but clear skies and sunshine… Talk about a mood booster!

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I am in Netherlands for next 3 months and I already feel cloudy/rainy days and cold are effecting my mood. I was in Turkey for 6 months before coming here, it boosted my mood.
Weather/Sun is one thing to lift me up but more important to deal with my downs is that to be among friends and/or friendly people.

Travelling can make your depression worse if you lose support networks. Generally speaking travelling acts as a catalyst for feelings. It might help if you are escaping some kind of abuse or toxic environment, otherwise, you shouldn’t expect travel to fix mental health issues.