Taking care of your mental health abroad – The Global Gator

In the excitement and expectations of traveling to new places and studying abroad, it’s easy to lose sight of the self-care and rituals we maintain. Naturally, we tend to get caught up in the day-to-day worries of life, and this phenomenon is increased tenfold in times of extreme change. This experience left me pretty blind when I started experiencing bouts of anxiety. In some context, I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life, but I’ve only just begun to learn how to deal with it. Although I spent my entire childhood moving to different countries, I still found myself struggling with my recent anxiety. Although I came to Ireland well equipped with raincoats and waterproof boots, I was far less prepared for the unexpected emotional turmoil I was about to face over the past two months. I am by no means a professional, but I know that learning from the experiences of other people (especially other study abroad students I have met) has really helped me better understand and manage my anxiety. In this article, I’m going to share some of the tips and guidelines that I’ve personally used to help me feel more calm, aligned, and able to handle this new time in my life.

Create space for peace

The first thing I recognized I needed to prioritize was my peace. For me, that means creating a routine for myself that allows me to practice mindfulness. When you study abroad, there are always a plethora of new events and opportunities to attend, and you should definitely try as many new things that interest you. During all of this, make sure you don’t lose sight of each other. Check your emotions regularly. Personally, I like to set aside time to meditate alone. Sometimes it feels like sitting on my yoga mat and taking deep breaths. Often, however, it also feels like reading, painting, or other activities that reconnect me to myself. Regardless of what that looks like to you, try to create more opportunities for mindfulness in everyday life.

Learn more about mental health

Earlier this year, I started learning more about my personal anxiety by reading books and listening to podcasts. It allowed me to look at my experiences with a more objective perspective by understanding why and how my anxiety occurs. Although I live 4,000 miles from where I used to live when I first started learning about mental health, the lessons I learned have helped me immensely in recognizing similar thought patterns and use the tools that I have practiced before. I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to the following podcasts: “Owning It – The Anxiety Podcast” by Caroline Foran, “Therapy In A Nutshell” by Emma McAdam, and “Help Me Be Me” by Sarah May. There are many other resources online, but these are some of my favorites.

Logging

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the benefits of journaling many times, but I continue to recommend this practice to everyone I meet. By allowing you to be honest and unfiltered about your experiences and how you feel, journaling gives you a private space to process your emotions. Try to set a time each day to write whatever you want at that time, whether it’s a sentence or several pages. If you don’t feel ready to write that day, I’ve also found it helpful to save video diaries to my laptop or voice memos to my phone. Either way, using this meditative exercise to keep track of your emotions can be extremely helpful. Here is a link to an introductory guide to logging: https://blog.zencare.co/therapeutic-journaling/

Go to new places

I know, that sounds a bit redundant. Although you are already in a totally different country, there will always be new places nearby to explore. Getting out of your student accommodation and getting out of your head a bit can be really helpful. This could mean taking the train (take advantage of the amazing public transport here!) to a nearby town, a cheap RyanAir flight to a neighboring country (some of these flights cost €10), or simply walking to a park with a Cup of coffee. Recently I went to Copenhagen during reading week (mid-semester vacation) and stayed in a hostel. During this time, my new surroundings helped me reconnect with my intentions and return to calm after the difficult weeks with anxiety that preceded. In combination with journaling, meditation, and other strategies, finding comfort in new surroundings can be very beneficial!

Reach out to friends and family

One of the most useful and basic things I’ve learned to do is check in with my friends and family on a regular basis. Initially, I struggled to do this because of my tendency to think too much about my relationships with my peers. However, I quickly realized that maintaining contact with my loved ones was incredibly calming and reassuring. Talk to someone you trust and challenge yourself to be more open, you might be surprised at how much better you’ll feel.

Talk to a professional

When feelings of anxiety linger and become difficult to manage, seeking professional support could be a great opportunity to receive more help and learn coping strategies. At UF, I contacted the Counseling and Wellness Center for a consultation and received very helpful support. Despite my nervousness, I quickly realized that these resources are there for a reason and that the counselors are trained to help people get through it. I also used this process at Trinity College, where I contacted their Student Advising Services and made a SNAP (Support & Needs Assessment Planning) appointment to speak with an adviser. Throughout this appointment, I learned about various resources at my study abroad institution for dealing with anxiety, such as a support group I signed up for. I also received an account on SilverCloud, an online wellness support system, which my advisor and I have access to. At your facility, there are most likely similar resources available to you. Contact your school or search for “mental health resources” on their website to review your options. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Last words!

I hope this hasn’t been too overwhelming for anyone, studying abroad is an amazing experience that you shouldn’t shy away from because of your anxieties or other personal mental health issues. It really is an amazing opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself. Give yourself permission to feel sad or anxious at times, and be both patient and empathetic with yourself as you adjust to this new place.

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