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How I Managed My Mental Health Concerns While Abroad

Dec 19, 2018 1:52:00 PM / by Casey Rhode

In this week's post, Casey gets candid about managing her mental health while balancing studying, interning, and living in a new country. Here are some tips and coping strategies she's discovered and used to have an amazing and successful time in Dublin. Casey also lists some options for support while abroad.

When I first looked into studying abroad, I had to ask myself if I could handle it. Studying abroad is known to put you out of your comfort zone and test your limits. I didn’t know if I was ready for that type of experience. Many people ponder this question before choosing to go abroad, it sometimes even stops them from ever applying. People with mental or physical illnesses ponder this question a lot more. For me, I have been handling anxiety and an eating disorder for multiple years. Due to that reason, I wasn’t sure that I could study abroad. I had problems in the past being too far from home and adjusting to a new way of life. That feeling would be magnified twenty times if I decided to study abroad for a semester. I have found coping strategies from therapy and my everyday experience, and I felt confident enough I could transfer these strategies while I was abroad, which is why I did make it to Dublin this semester.

Avocado ToastAvocado toast.

For anyone reading this who thinks they couldn’t handle coping with their own illnesses, I want you to know that it’s okay if you feel that way. I also want you to know that you’re not alone and it is possible to have an amazing experience while dealing with serious stuff. Sometimes you need to hear that it is possible before you think you can do it yourself, so here’s how I’ve done it the past few months.

1. Be Patient with Yourself and with Others

I won’t lie, it’s scary. Coming to a foreign place and having to adjust to everyday life takes time. You have to be patient with yourself and with others. Nobody truly understands what you are going through besides you. It’s important to understand that people will make comments and not realize how it impacts you. I had people comment about how I would eat a lot, or they couldn’t believe my small body could hold all that food or that I was just lucky to be small and not worry about having to get a guy’s attention. It hurts, but do not be afraid to tell people that those comments are not okay.

Chicken and RiceYou can make some of your own healthy food like chicken and rice.

Although food can feel like an enemy sometimes, there are a lot of great places to eat in Dublin. At most, you can find something healthy but sometimes it’s okay to treat yourself to something unhealthy. Some of the foods I had were avocado toast (Fumbally or Wall & Keogh), banana French toast (Little Bird Yoga), vegan/non-vegan pizza (Apretivo or DiFontaine’s), or make some of your own food by buying some chicken and rice or making homemade vegan cookies like my roommate did. Whether you eat out or make your own food, you have options, which is one of the best things about Dublin.

2. Keep Up with Your Hobbies—This is Something That Can Ground You in a World of Chaos

More Tasty foodMore tasty food.

Sometimes the anxiety of being away from home, the stress of school and internship can be a lot too. Something that usually helps is having a hobby, something that can ground you in a world of chaos. For me that was yoga or music. If I was feeling overwhelmed with something or feeling gross about myself, I would wake up extra early and go to my living room to do yoga. Yoga is great because you can do it anywhere at any time. It helps give you a sense of peace and relieves tension. Music is a great help as well, because no matter what mood you are in, there’s a song that can help you feel better. Wanna cry? Go listen to some Ed Sheeran or the soundtrack from Grey’s Anatomy. Wanna punch a wall? Go listen to Linkin Park or someone in the rock genre. Wanna listen to Christmas music even though it’s not in season? Listen to the Pentatonix Christmas albums or Michael Buble. Music does amazing things for the brain.

3. Know That There is Always Counseling and Support Always—Even Abroad!

PizzaEating pizza.

Another thing that really helped was knowing that there was counseling and support always available to me. CAPA offers free counseling up to the first 6 sessions and has their staff always there for available support or just to have a casual talk with. While I never used the counseling, it was nice to know if I felt I couldn’t handle my problems, that there were options for me. I did talk to staff about anxieties throughout the semester and they were beyond helpful. They know we struggle with homesickness, especially during holidays. They know juggling school, internships, and traveling is hard to do and have tips on how to handle it. One of the best resources to use while studying abroad and dealing with mental or physical health issues are your roommates. Most likely they have similar anxieties going on or have something they need to talk to someone about too. Not only does it help you bond as roommates, but you also learn more things about one another that end up helping you become friends for life. Don’t take them for granted.

Vegan CookiesMaking some homemade vegan cookies.

Studying abroad is an experience of a lifetime, but it’s also going to test you in multiple ways. If you have mental or physical health issues, there are options to give you help and support. You can and will still have an amazing time! I highly recommend it.

Thanks, Casey!

Casey Rhode

Casey Rhode is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An Interdisciplinary Studies major at Arizona State University, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.

Casey's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.

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Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Predeparture & Study Abroad Preparations