Friday 26 July 2019

Prioritising your mental health when abroad

Varsha discusses the challenges related to traveling and moving abroad and offers some ways to manage this.
- Varsha Patel

Travel and moving abroad can be stressful. While you’re thinking about dodging pickpockets, brushing up on useful local phrases (les toilettes, svp?) and trying to squeeze in those extra pair of heels in your already bulging carry-on, there’s something that might take a backseat in your travel preparations: your mental health. Whilst you can always buy the bottle of shampoo you forgot to pack at duty-free, there’s sadly no quick fix for mental health. So why are we not adding preparations to look after our mental health to our pre-travel iPhone notes checklist? 

There are a plethora of challenges related to traveling and moving abroad: making friends, meeting rent, unfamiliar support systems and a complete change to your daily life. In fact, the NHS has identified some challenges that could disrupt mental health such as language barriers, culture shock and a sense of isolation and separation from family and friends. But this doesn’t have to put you off traveling! Taking the steps both before and during your travels means you can prioritise your mental health, no matter your destination. 

Here are my tips and advice on things to consider when traveling or moving abroad!

Before you travel
Consider whether your insurance covers your mental health condition. Some insurance companies will exclude cover for mental health, so shop around and read the small print. 

Ensure, if you’re eligible, that you have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) - they don’t take long to arrive in the post, but make sure you order one at least two weeks before you travel. For more advice, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) guidance on travel insurance

If you take medication, make sure you have enough to last you for your whole trip. You might also what to consider whether your medication is both legal and available where you’re staying. You can check the information on NHS traveling with medicine. You can also check with the embassy of the country you’re planning to visit and check with your airline if you need documentation to prove you need to carry the medication. 

Finally, it might be a good idea to research what mental health support is available where you are traveling to, as well as local attitudes to mental health. 

For further advice and recommendations for pre-travel mental health preparation, check out the FCO guidance. 

When you’re abroad
So what about when you’re there? You’ve done all the preparation, and you’ve worked out whether your medication is acceptable and readily available. But you’re now in your rented shoebox of a room, and you’re just feeling crap. What now?

As somebody who has moved abroad before - and found myself not loving it at times - I think the biggest difficulty for me was to will myself to get out of my bed, and see the city I’m in. 

Just going for a walk around the street, or exploring something I always said I would but convinced myself I never had the time for. I found it really allowed me to reset my mind and have a more positive outlook. Of course, convincing yourself to go is a hill to climb in itself, but setting yourself a target of a 20-minute walk a day could might really help. 

Additionally, a consistent hobby that takes place at a certain time every week, could also help you get moving (e.g. a netball session or a cooking class). Before you leave, I’d recommend researching local clubs/teaching activities/courses outside of what you’re traveling there for. Keeping occupied is always a good step. But equally, you want to give yourself time to breathe.

I also found it really helped me to keep a piece of home with me. I was consistently allocating time to Facetime my friends and family, and keeping dates in my calendar for when they were going to visit, so I always had something to look forward to. When you’re not in a good place, you can always count on your loved ones to lift your spirits, and distract you after a down-moment. A nice little trick which I wish I used more when I was abroad was WhatsApp voice notes. It’s quick, and is perfect for when your friend wasn’t able to pick up your call at that very moment, but something hilarious has happened that you want to recount immediately before you forget. 

Start adding ‘prioritising my mental health’ to your pre-travel checklists - you won’t regret it.

Varsha is a London-based journalist who is interested in promoting mental health awareness in all aspects of everyday life, be it travel, employment or university. She graduated from the University of Warwick in 2017 in Law and French Law, and her writing can be found here. She can also be found on twitter @pretendjourno. 

You can find further support and advice on navigating your year abroad and looking after your mental health here.

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