Lockdown driving you loco? Then Scotland could save your mental health

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Almost a quarter of people from the UK and Ireland took a holiday in Scotland last year to specifically protect their mental health from the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown, new research by VisitScotland has revealed.

The national tourism organisation has examined the emotional benefits of tourism such as alleviating stress, boosting confidence and increasing creativity. It has also shone a light on the travel motivations of visitors from the UK (including Scotland) and Ireland during the pandemic.

St Andrews is among Scottish locations that have helped visitors cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic Pic: Deadline News

 The insights come during Mental Health Awareness Week and highlight that taking a break can improve well-being. The annual event, run by The Mental Health Foundation, aims to help people focus on achieving good mental health, with this year’s theme being nature. People are encouraged to share images, videos, or just sound recordings of the nature on their doorsteps via social media.

 Looking after mental health was a strong motivation amongst visitors aged under 45 with 42 per cent taking a holiday or short break in Scotland because of this.

 VisitScotland’s new Emotional Benefits of Tourism research paper explores how holidaying in Scotland can enhance visitors’ well-being and draws upon visitors’ key reasons for travelling to Scotland as restrictions eased last year.

 Over half of people (53 per cent) wanted to holiday in Scotland in 2020 because they needed a change of environment, followed closely behind by wanting to connect with nature/the outdoors (51 per cent).

The emotional benefits of a holiday in Scotland highlighted in the research paper include how it fosters resilience, alleviates stress, increases creativity, boosts confidence and encourages empathy. The latter benefit is backed up by the fact that 36 per cent of people holidayed in Scotland to support tourism businesses who had been suffering during the pandemic.

Previous qualitative research carried out by VisitScotland found that visitors to Scotland imagine a holiday here will be an intense experience with the potential to profoundly move them emotionally. They expect to feel an emotional connection with Scotland, to feel at home and re-centred in their own lives and de-stressing and escapism are viewed as some of the key benefits of a Scottish holiday.

Scottish tourism businesses are being encouraged to use well-being as a focus for their activity going forward. Personalisation, developing emotional intelligence, and providing opportunities to give back in the business’s local community are just some of the ways to engage with emotional tourism suggested in the paper.

Chris Greenwood, VisitScotland Senior Tourism Insight Manager, said: “Post-lockdown, there will be a focus on improving our well-being and going on holiday or attending an event will prove popular ways to do that – when restrictions allow.

 “Our research has shown that protecting mental health and a need for change and connection are key motivators for holidaying in Scotland.

 “An overall emotional experience is critical for today’s visitors and is a powerful factor when choosing where to travel. Scotland, with its combination of nature, history and welcoming spirit ticks all the boxes when it comes to providing a sense of connection and enrichment.

 “Tourism is a force for good – creating economic and social value in every corner of Scotland and enhancing the well-being of everyone who experiences it. We all deserve a holiday, and Scotland, and all it offers, will be?the perfect antidote after?lockdown.”

 Chris O’Sullivan, Head of Communications and Fundraising at Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said:  “We all have mental health and the more we learn to recognise the things that help us protect and improve it, the more likely we are to prevent mental health problems arising.

 “Taking a break is good for our mental health – a change of pace, a change of space and an opportunity to spend time away from our work can all be good for our wellbeing, particularly if it includes connecting with nature.

 “That’s why the theme of our Mental Health Awareness Week is nature and how we can improve our connection to it. We’re lucky in Scotland that we have so many beautiful places on our doorsteps.

 “Even in our cities we’re never far from natural beauty.  Whether it’s Princes Street Gardens on a city break, the perfect beaches of the west coast, or camping under the stars in one of our dark skies parks, Scotland is a unique place to take a break and find and cherish our connection with the natural world.”