I was scared to leave my support system to venture abroad. I love to travel, but being in a different time zone and away from the people I trust was scary for me.
I’m talking about the people to whom you opened a very vulnerable part of yourself. The people who can see something is wrong with the subtle expression of your face and know exactly how to handle the situation. Abroad can be difficult to adjust to because you are completely thrown out of your daily routine. The good news: you CAN adapt and find new ways to incorporate what works for you and your progress.
If you need your therapist – skype them.
If therapy is an important part of your progress, don’t stop. I know talking to someone other than my friends is really important for my anxiety and depression. There are things that I want to tell my friends but might end up hurting them or making them more concerned about me. I need an outlet to talk with about these delicate topics with that need to be said, but also won’t affect the social relationships in my everyday life. Making time to speak with someone I am familiar with every week provides a healthy outlet for times I am struggling with depression or anxiety.
Make time to engage in activities that help your progress.
At home, when I am experiencing a major depressive episode, I need to drive to get out my emotions. However, in London, I don’t have a car, and the tube gives me a lot of time to lock myself in my head and focus on these recurring negative thoughts. I forced myself into the habit of walking, which really helped to alleviate the anxiety and was a way to express myself rather than sleeping away my feelings or engaging in other unhealthy coping habits.
Find time to focus on something outside of yourself.
Make a list of things you want to do while in your city, and then make a schedule for the week. Whether it’s a famous restaurant, beautiful park, fascinating work of art, or a quirky bookstore, make a time to go there. I find that when I am in my flat, I indulge in bad habits and become lethargic. No matter how tired I am, if I find the courage and strength to go to a place I’ve never been before, I never regret the experience of discovering something new. The toughest part is convincing myself to take the first step forward; but, once I do, I add more excitement and adventure to my experience.
I have done a lot of travelling while abroad, and it’s extremely difficult to go to the gym or engage in a lot of activity. However, the longer I go without working out or doing something to get my body moving, the more irritable I get. You need that release of endorphins to let out anxious energy, or even increase the overall amount of energy you have on days when depression is bringing you down. Dedicate time for a run or other physical activity, even if it’s for five minutes. When in doubt, walk or just step out of bed. Keep moving. Every step is a victory.
Extend your support system.
If you can’t skype your therapist – ask for help. Many universities have set up health and wellness programs to aid in your adjustment abroad. See if there are free services that allow you to speak with someone you feel comfortable with. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it can make a huge difference in the way you are expressing your feelings. This is especially helpful if any problems arise like panic attacks or major depressive episodes that might affect your school work, which is much easier to tackle when you have a member of university faculty who is aware of the situation on your side (who also has the privilege of confidentiality and experience in speaking with students about mental illness).
Abroad will be the best experience of your life, exposing you to a new world of possibilities, ideas and cultures that will alter the way you see the world. Living in another country provides a new set of obstacles, but overcoming them has been one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had in my life. These tips I’ve shared with you allowed me to fully engage with the spontaneity of studying abroad and helped me to get through my highs and lows of anxiety and depression without having my safety net