Mental health, often unacknowledged and ignored, can be a dark side of studying abroad. Yes, studying abroad is an enriching and satisfying experience. It makes you self-sufficient, independent and mature but at the same time, it may come with a long list of stressors.
In cases like that, sweeping your mental illness symptoms under the rug may feel like the easiest thing to do. But, what you really need is solutions, someone to talk to and sources of help. Also, while you may believe you are the only one to suffer depression or anxiety while studying abroad, let us tell you, you are not alone.
Moving out of your home and safe zone can be a pretty daunting task. From dealing with fresh academic competition to coming across people from places you have not even heard of, studying abroad demands you to do everything on your own. Nevertheless, that feeling of loneliness or homesickness can be done away with the study abroad mental health tips we are about to share below. But before that, let us understand the mental health issues faced by students while studying abroad.
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Mental Health Issues Faced by International Students
Student life abroad can be accompanied by several mental health stressors. You should remember that it is necessary to take care of mental health in the same way you take care of your physical health. Your mental well-being is essential to your emotional health and your ability to function in a new or alien environment. Here are some of the mental health issues that you might encounter in your life as an international student:
Cultural shock or cross-cultural adjustment cannot be termed a psychological problem. It is a common and expected developmental phase experienced by international students. Cultural shock is a clash between the personal way of perceiving the world and the new environment.
Cultural shock can arise due to differences in food, communications, transport, dressing, health, finances, relationships, social structure, values and academic demands. Many students are unprepared to deal with the changes in the new ecosystem which affects their emotional well-being. It can have an adverse effect on their mood, behaviour, stress level, behaviour and identity.
You may expect to quickly adjust to new surroundings when you are in your “honeymoon phase” exploring the country but the thrill and excitement may start fading and you enter your “ withdrawal phase”. After initial sadness and anxiety, you can finally be flexible and adjust to the new way of life.
Homesickness and Separation Anxiety
Separation from family, friends and close ones can give you severe anxiety and a feeling of homesickness. You may at first feel extremely lonely in a new country without any familiar faces. Sometimes the clock differences may prevent you from contacting your family and friends when you need them utmost. Homesickness can also arise due to a lack of ability to make new friends, language barrier and cultural shock. Food is a major factor that can make you recall your home.
In such situations, you should stay connected to your home. Make a schedule to chat regularly, connect through social media and share your experiences with your loved ones. Also, you should try to break the ice with your new school by exploring the surroundings by meeting new people. You should make friends with other international students who may be undergoing similar issues and remember that you are not alone in this journey.
Embracing New Found Independence
For many international students, one of the main challenges is dealing with their newfound independence. You may find it difficult to tackle independent living with several roles and responsibilities demanding your attention.
You have to make the transition bearable by embracing whatever is happening around you. If you need to work to support your expenses, think of it as a period of learning an essential life skill. You should settle your priorities and make a to-do list to stay organised. It is imperative to balance your social life as well as academics.
Will I Be Able to Cope With the New Education System?
Apart from the above-mentioned mental health issues faced by international students, lack of confidence is a major issue that plagues them. They fear that they will not be able to cope with the new education system of the country. The new academic environment, curriculum and style of education can be very different from their native country.
If you are unable to under what is being taught in the class or how to do a particular assignment you can take the help of teaching assistants (TAs) who are assigned the duty to help you out. You should not hesitate to get your concepts cleared by the professors. Your new friends can also help you in this regard. You can do group studies and doubt-clearing sessions with them. Remember to seek help when stuck can be a winning step toward coping with challenges.
Mental Health Tips for International Students
Studying abroad opens the doors to life-changing experiences for students. That being said, there are several off-sets faced by them. Staying away from home and managing everything from academics to the grocery to juggling part-time jobs on their own can seem quite stressful and result in unique mental health challenges. Combating unique stressors such as language barriers, discrimination, acculturation stress, unrealistic expectations, illness and crisis originating at home make international students vulnerable.
We acknowledge that living abroad can be overwhelming but there are certain coping strategies that help you to relieve your stress and increase satisfaction and performance. Here we will discuss some crucial mental health tips to help you in your dark days.
Develop a Routine
Moving abroad demands resetting your body clock. It takes up to a few days to get off the jet lag and follow a normal sleeping pattern. Build a routine in terms of performing different chores, exercising, eating, studying and sleeping. In this way, you can manage multiple activities together.
Keep Contact With Your Family and Friends
Despite being in a different time zone, you should always be in touch with your friends and family. You should connect with them over phone calls, video calls and messages at regular intervals and discuss your new life and its whereabouts. If you miss them, do not shy away from reaching out to them. If anything stresses you out or bugs you, it is necessary to reach out to them. In this way, you can relieve your stress and get consolation or solutions to your problems.
Build Your Own Community
There are numerous clubs at foreign universities where you can showcase your talent and participate in exciting activities. You can join a drama club, hiking club or sports club and make new friends and acquaintances. Be brave to reach out to new friends. Perhaps they are undergoing the same stressors as you. Making friends is the best way to get rid of loneliness in a foreign country and you will definitely not regret it.
Explore the City
Get to know the city. Find the things that excite you. Familiarising yourself with your surroundings can help you feel connected and you will not consider yourself an outsider. Make a list of places to visit and activities to perform while you are in the city. Set out to explore new places with your buddies.
When you are anxious, stressed, depressed or suffering from other mental health issues it is important to talk about it. Reaching out for help from a certified therapist is an absolute necessity if you cannot cope with your situation on your own. Go to the university health service or take the help of your mentors. Sharing your struggle with a professional can help you heal from your issues.
Self-Care Tips for International Students
A depressed mood can ruin your emotional health and further impact your academic progress. It can cause a lack of interest in activities, sleeplessness, fatigue, suicidal tendencies or a feeling of worthlessness. It is necessary to self-help in those circumstances. In case of severities, we suggest you seek professional help.
Here are some self-care tips to boost your energy level and mood. These changes can be implemented in daily life to bring positive results.
- Exercise: A daily 20 to 30 minutes of physical movement in the form of exercises, aerobics, walking, running, sports and other physical activities can help in the release of dopamine and serotonin which are known to improve moods. Indulge in any activity of your choice to stay healthy physically and mentally.
Eating Healthy: While away from home, students tend to binge on unhealthy fast foods which are quick to make or eat out at restaurants. Though these are easy options and save your cooking time but can result in serious health disorders. You can cook simple food combinations that can cater to the macro and micro requirements.
Sound Sleep: Sleep is the most neglected discipline in the life of international students. In order to juggle several tasks, they often cut down their sleeping hours. But good sleep improves health and mood. It is necessary for overall health. Make sure to sleep at least for 7-8 hours at night.
Meditation: Meditation is the most underrated aspect of good mental health. While dealing with multiple stress factors, our mind loses its calm and focus. In order to bring back attention and concentration, it is important to meditate. You can also try visualisations.
Journaling: Writing a journal is a good way to gain clarity and quieten the mind. Jotting down your emotions using pen and paper can help you to recognise your feelings and vent out your emotions. If you are unable to pen down your thoughts you can take the help of journaling prompts.
Indulge in Creativity: Giving free rein to your creative instincts can be a good self-care idea. You can sing, dance, paint or act in your free time. You can pick up a new hobby or learn a new language. Give yourself a break from the monotonous life.
Be Sympathetic to Yourself: Amidst academic pressure and nerve-wracking deadlines, students often become cruel to themselves and compromise on several essentials. It is necessary to strike a work-life balance and stop being a perfectionist. You should allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them.
Using Coping Thoughts: Whenever you feel a lack of self-confidence and feel worthless, remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Use coping thoughts to remind yourself that all stress factors are temporary.
How do Universities Help Students with their Mental Health?
Providing mental health support to domestic as well as international students has been on the universities’ agenda for the last few years. Universities abroad are committed to extending their support to students experiencing emotional turmoil. Here are the ways in which educational institutions abroad help you in mental distress:
Professional psychological support on campus is provided to students who are in dire need of help. Psychologists are culturally sensitive and offer individual or group counselling to students. Students can disclose their problems to counsellors without hesitation.
Universities also create and maintain a network of mental health care service providers off-campus as some mental health problems require psychiatric assistance, diagnostic evaluation, medicines and even hospitalisations.
Universities play an important role in encouraging students to disclose mental health issues. They intervene when problems escalate and encourage students to come out of their shells and speak up about their issues.
They help in building student initiatives and peer support groups to raise awareness among students. They explore and create a peer support and awareness campaigns and involve student volunteers as trust agents. Various buddy programmes peer mentoring and peer training can help to build a chain of trust and mental well-being.
Universities also train their officers, tutors and staff to provide primary care to students who are distressed.
Mental Health Preparation Before Studying Abroad
During months spent on writing applications, arranging for funds, applying for a visa, making checklists for study abroad and other preparations, students often tend to forget or neglect their mental health preparation. They feel that they will be able to overcome their fears and anxiety. As the time to fly nears, uncertainty and fear grip their mind. Therefore, it is important that besides being physically ready to move to another country, you should also mentally prepare yourself.
We will discuss some real mental preparation steps to make your days easy abroad.
Find out about the different mental health counselling services abroad. Know about the various emergency assistance.
Make a list of contacts whom you can talk to in a crisis. You can let them know beforehand that you might need their help.
Set a list of goals related to academics, work, travel or other stuff and keep ticking them off to stay motivated.
Familiarise yourself with the culture of the country by reading books, surfing the internet or talking to someone living in that country.
Practice being independent even when you are at home. You can buy some groceries or make yourself breakfast or run errands to understand how your life will be during your stay abroad.
Have realistic expectations regarding your study abroad. You cannot expect yourself to be able to balance everything perfectly. You should put less pressure on yourself to achieve goals.
Human beings experience different emotions and times may arise when it is too much to deal with student life abroad. In order to prevent mental breakdown, it is important to develop resilience through positive self-talk and activities. You can always reach out for help when things get overwhelming and there is absolutely no shame in it. It is high time you take responsibility for yourself to take care of your physical and emotional well-being.
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