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How to Travel and Visit Family during a Pandemic: Mental Health Edition

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Hello once more dear readers,

I’m back, and if you remember last time I went over some tips to keep yourself and loved ones physically well if you end up traveling during these times. To recount it briefly: my partner and I visited family in late June, we limited contact as much as we could and we wore our masks even when the people around us didn’t. Now I’d like to go over something that’s been rare in these discussions of COVID, how to keep mentally well. 

I don’t quite know how to word the feelings exactly, but there’s something that’s incredibly emotionally and mentally degrading to exist in a space where the adults of my life disregarded concise scientific evidence for their own comfort and happiness while I had to keep constant awareness of my own health and the health of others while I’ve scarcely lived two decades on this earth. Visiting family was already stressful enough as a transgender and autistic young adult, but throw in a global pandemic, and a country that is becoming increasingly divided politically? I’m lucky my spine isn’t just made of jello by this point. 

So with that, I’d like to share just a little more advice I’ve devised from my own trials and tribulations of this trip. And even if you’re not traveling right now or plan to, I believe there can still be something gained from these good mental health practices.

  1. Set up boundaries/alone time with the people you’re housing with. Just because people wanted to see us, my partner and I needed to keep in mind our own happiness, wellbeing, and emotional energy during this trip. To do that we both tried to set up more boundaries than we had previously done with our families. After spending a whole day with someone, it was ok for me to want to take a break, go in my room and have alone time. It’s not only ok but necessary if I wanted to try and avoid burnouts/meltdown. I didn’t do a fantastic job at this, I wasn’t really ever conditioned to consider my own emotions over other people’s. But I’m an adult now and I deserve a sense of autonomy, and so do you.
  2. Do things you enjoy. During our two week vacation, my partner and I had the opportunity to apartment/cat sit for my mom for two days. That meant that we had two days where we didn’t have to be sure of anyone else’s comfort or happiness besides ourselves (well, ourselves + 2 cats). During that time we relaxed, watched shows we liked, and cooked/baked a lot. Cooking is a back burner special interest of mine and a big stress reliever. Going unhinged and making something delicious and beautiful for myself and my partner provided me with much-needed joy and comfort. Now, it doesn’t need to be cooking, but investing a little time to listen to music/watching a tv show or movie/engaging in some other hobby or special interest can go a long way for your mental health.
  3.  Set up a buddy system. I was lucky in this regard because I was traveling with my buddy. My partner and I supplied each other with a lot of emotional reassurance especially when times got tough. But I recognize the fact that not everyone traveling and visiting family can have that luxury. A good alternative is to try and set up an agreement with an online friend or a friend from back home. Someone who understands that you’re traveling and is willing to lend an ear and some kind words when you’re stressed or overwhelmed. A supportive text, phone call, or video chat can really make a difference for someone juggling a lot.
  4. My final piece of advice is to try out mindfulness exercises/meditation. There were many times during this trip that I needed to stop myself and my racing panicked thoughts by thinking, “Hey, this is where I physically am in space. This is what’s going on right now. I can figure this out, I can be ok.” Taking momentary pauses like this and creating awareness of my own thoughts and feelings was really helpful in terms of guiding my decision making and just calming myself down a bit when I needed it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, traveling or not, practicing mindfulness of the breath, body, and mind can be the difference between a full-fledged panic attack, and a just kind-of-sucky time. It’s not a miracle cure, but it helps to soften blows.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I hope you’ve learned something new! Writing these past two blogs for me has been really nice. Reflecting and summarizing to hopefully connect with the experiences of others and rationalize my own emotions. These are still stressful times readers, learn to give yourself some room to breathe. 

Thank you for your time and see you again soon, ~Dmitri