Practicing self-care while studying abroad has saved my life. It’s officially my sixth week abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland and I still haven’t freaked out about it. There have been no major panic attacks about how I’m 3,308 miles away from home and won’t see my parents and pets until December. I’ve had fewer panic attacks than I did last semester at UMass, how wild is that?
I honestly attribute that to the time I took over the summer to work on myself and how I manage my anxiety. Taking care of myself became my number one priority, as it should be for everyone. I stopped thinking about what everyone else thought and honed in on how to make myself happy and comfortable.
Studying abroad is something I think every college student should do before they graduate. Unfortunately, it is harder for those with mental illnesses like myself. I didn’t know how I was going to handle living so far away from home while managing anxiety and depression. During the time I spent focusing on myself this summer, I came up with some tactics to take care of myself that helped my well-being this semester. I would say that these have been pretty successful considering that I haven’t wanted to book an earlier flight back to New Jersey.
My 6 Tips for Self-Care While Studying Abroad
1. Make sure you are prepared
The first step for practicing self-care while studying abroad is making sure you’re really ready to go. I was originally supposed to go abroad during my junior year of college but ended up withdrawing from the program and staying at UMass. I didn’t feel mentally strong enough to go live in a foreign place. At that time, I wasn’t on any medication or seeing a therapist. I wasn’t taking care of myself the way I wanted to and definitely wasn’t in the right mindset to be abroad. It’s okay to admit that you aren’t ready to go abroad at the moment.
I know if I went abroad then, I wouldn’t have had a good time. I had to take care of myself first, and that is perfectly valid. Your health should come before everything else. Make sure you are in a good spot mentally before you commit to spending four months in another country.
2. Keep in contact
Just because you are far away from your family and friends doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to them. Even if there is a time difference, people who care about you will always find time to talk to you. I texted my mom almost every day and FaceTimed my parents (and my pets) about once a week. I also kept in close contact with my boyfriend and best friends. I tried to focus on the moment and what was going on in Edinburgh, but that didn’t mean I needed to isolate myself from everyone at home.
3. Pack things from home that bring you comfort
A great way to practice self-care while studying abroad is to bring things that help you feel at home. I brought my favorite fleece blanket, a stuffed unicorn my mom gave me, and tons of pictures. These things make me feel more at home in my room in Edinburgh.
Getting into bed at night and curling up with my blanket that still smelled like my home in New Jersey was the best feeling. When my boyfriend visited me a couple of weeks ago, he bought me a stuffed highland cow that I now can’t sleep without. It’s honestly the little things that brought me the most comfort.
4. If you take medication, make sure you have enough
If there’s any tip I can give, this would be the most important. If you take any prescription medications, make sure you bring enough with you. I had to fight with insurance to get four months’ worth of all of my prescriptions and get a license from the U.K. government. The hassle was worth it.
I couldn’t imagine trying to get my medications mailed to me by my parents.
A) I’m not even sure if that’s legal, and
B) it’s good to have one less thing to worry about when you’re away.
Worrying about running out of the medication that keeps you functioning is not a good way to practice self-care while studying abroad, so plan ahead!
5. It’s okay to say no
I am very much a people-pleaser but I’ve learned to be more selfish. For example, I was originally going to travel to another city with a large group of people (I’m talking like 10+). Just planning for it was turning into a nightmare, and I knew that I would be stressed out during the entire trip.
I felt really guilty, but I made the decision to back out of the plans. No one was mad at me and they completely understood my worries.
If something is going to make you uncomfortable, don’t do it. You will have plenty of opportunities to do things that you will actually enjoy.
Don’t force yourself to do something you know would stress you out.
6. Alone time is necessary
I would consider myself pretty extroverted as I generally hate going more than an hour without human interaction. However, being around people constantly in a new environment can be draining. I’ve really learned to appreciate just having nights alone in my room watching Netflix or reading blog posts.
I love spending time with my new friends but having some time to myself has been essential as well. After spending a weekend traveling with friends, I found alone time is also amazing.
Going abroad can definitely be stressful, so please remember taking care of yourself should be your number one priority. No trip is worth it if it’s going to run you into the ground. Take the time and measures you need to make sure you are okay both physically and mentally.
If Lauren’s experience resonates with you, read Lauren’s other blog posts from her website!
Or, read other blogs from Scotland and about Mental Health abroad.