Monday, 7 October 2019

Handling anxiety whilst studying abroad

Alyssa writes about how to handle Anxiety whilst studying abroad
- Alyssa

In a tiny toilet down the street from the Gloucester Road station, I pressed my hands against my temples, trying to calm my nervous stomach and steady my shaky breath. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing the panic to go away, willing myself not to cry. Again. 
Through the thin, cold walls, I could hear the buzzing of street noises, the sound of sirens and the rumble of the nearby overground. It all felt frantic and foreign and – frankly – too much. 

It was my first week of my semester in London – but instead of feeling excited, I felt panicky and on edge. All I could do was fight my way through the orientations, find a place to hide and try to reason with my racing heart. London wasn’t that different from America, and I thought I’d adjust easily. But now, completely alone in another country, the culture shock was suddenly very real – and so was my anxiety, although I didn’t know what to call it at the time. 

Everyone talks about how studying abroad will be the time of your life – and for me, it was. But I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety that came with transitioning. If you’re struggling with anxiety while you’re abroad, you’re not alone – and you’re not helpless. Here’s how to deal with study abroad anxiety and make the most of your experience. 

Find a Safe Space 

Before experiencing it yourself, you might think culture shock is all about your attitude – but like anxiety, it’s both a physical and psychological reaction, and it has a lot to do with your environment. 
When you’re feeling overwhelmed in a foreign country, the first step is to find somewhere you feel safe. It could be your room, a cozy coffee shop, a quiet park or a student lounge. Having a quiet place to return to will help whenever you feel out of control. 

Build a Routine 

If you’re like me, unfamiliarity is the key cause of anxiety in another country. You’re trying to adjust to a whole new life while feeling homesick for the one you left behind. 
In the second stage of culture shock, your anxiety makes your brain reject everything about your host country, but getting into a regular routine will help you feel more grounded and at home. Write down your schedule – whether that’s classes, an internship, events or downtime. 

Soon, you’ll realize it’s not so different – you’ll be walking a familiar route, attending regular classes, and doing work at the same cafĂ©. 

Keep Track of Your Thoughts 

When you’re having trouble managing your anxiety, journaling helps you cope by releasing all your feelings, fears and negative energy. 
Write down how you feel. Write every day. It will calm you down and give you a channel for your anxiety. At first, writing might only be a release – but you can also turn it into a tool. Start looking for something positive to write down each day. Look for beauty in the environment around you. When you focus on noticing the good in your new home, you’ll be less focused on feeling anxious. 

Ease Out of Your Comfort Zone 

You might feel like you’re the only one struggling with study abroad anxiety while everyone else is out exploring fearlessly, but that’s not true. Remember, it takes time to cope with culture shock. While it’s important to stay busy and challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone, you don’t have to push yourself too far too soon. Set small goals and test your limits at your own pace. 

When I was struggling to adjust, I wrote a list of everything I wanted to do abroad – and then I told myself it was okay not to finish it. Instead, I explored in small steps, going one tube stop further or picking one new site to visit each weekend. Soon, I realized I wasn’t afraid anymore. 

Wherever you’re studying as an international student, you can work through your initial anxiety. When you take your time and be kind to yourself, you’ll realize you’re in control – not because you’ll never feel anxious, but because you’re strong enough to try anyway.. 

For more information on year abroad support click here

Hi, I'm Alyssa, an education and student life blogger with a passion for connecting with students of all kinds. Making positive self-care choices like these has kept me grounded through school and life — and I hope to help other students succeed, stay healthy and make the most of their university experience. Follow along on my blog, Syllabusy.

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