Thursday 12 November 2015

Managing Your Mental Health on Your Year Abroad

Kirby reflects on managing anxiety and depression through keeping a travel journal, and developing other personalised techniques to deal with mental health whilst on travelling. 

- Kirby Moore

So far this year, I have travelled around Spain, worked as an Au Pair in Madrid, Seville and Rome and chosen to spend my year abroad in Mexico.

La Finca, Seville
Using my experience, I would like to share some useful travel tips for maintaining a healthy mind, when travelling.

Firstly, I would say that having the diagnosis allowed me to accept myself for who I am. Part of the treatment, was to understand the illness and in doing so, I developed small but effective techniques to manage the irrational thoughts.

Not wanting to be defeated by my illness, I was eager to challenge myself and in Easter, I spent three weeks travelling to Barcelona, Mallorca and spending a few weeks, working with an amazing Spanish family, in Seville and Madrid.

This was my first voyage away, for a while. Although a little apprehensive, my treatment had taught me to focus on the here and now, living in the moment and not thinking about what may or may not happen.

I began to write a travel journal, in order to record not only what I had been doing each day but the thoughts, feelings and emotions I was going through, at the time. Dedicating a time in the day to jot down my thoughts, proved to be an effective way of dealing with any issues faced during that day, allowing me to move on.

Walking around Rome with so much to see

Summer 2015, I found a willing family in central Rome, where I would spend the summer. This was a life changing experience, yet I still had some difficult times with my mental health.

My travel journal continued to clear the mind as well as keeping busy and filling my day. Luckily, Rome is a city full of wonderful adventures to have and even when I was alone, usually the most difficult times, I was able to explore the many streets and historical sites on foot, which helped to lift any negative thoughts.
Taking time out to read a book in piece, is something that I struggle to do because my mind gets distracted easily, the words are ignored and my attention turns to the anxious thoughts.

People from around the world that I met in Rome
I have realised that with the right book, this struggle can be controlled.
Being a social person, I rely heavily on the company of others as a way of dealing with my illness. I surrounded myself with friends, spending the mornings at a language school and the evenings in bars and restaurants, meeting more and more people, from all over the world.

My decision to spend the year abroad in Mexico was one that raised a few issues. One of the reasons why I chose to study at the University of Southampton, was due to the opportunity to travel to Mexico. I was not going to let this dream of mine be compromised by my illness, however, getting permission by the University to travel here, was full of many hurdles.

I had to meet with various senior members of staff, from the faculty, get written permission by my doctor and have written reports submitted by enabling services. In some ways, I felt like I had to prove to the university that I was mentally stable to go to Mexico. 

The unbelievable scale of Mexico City
Choosing to study or work outside of Europe, seems to require a lot more investigation and meetings than deciding to stay within the safety of the EU.
My risk assessment, completed by all students going on a year abroad, had to include steps to take in case of an emergency, concerning my illness. This was useful as it allowed me to investigate the local health services in Cancun, which I would advise to do before departing.

Living day to day, with every sunset comes a new day
Travelling to Mexico, there are potential problems with accessing medication. The best bet was to speak with my doctor, who gave me what I needed in terms of  medication and wrote me a doctor’s note to explain the medication, including the dosage and the diagnosis.
Now I am here, I have continued to write in my travel journal. I have started my blog which allows me to reflect on my time in Mexico, as the weeks go by. Being able to talk to the right people is important and I keep in contact with the university as well as my mentor, back in Southampton.
The prospect of travelling can be nerve-racking for anyone. At times, you can feel very isolated and the temptation to return to the comfort of your own country, can be very attractive. It is extremely important that you understand your mind, before leaving for a trip.

For our Student Minds guide to a year abroad for yourself or a friend,  click here 

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