CAPA blogger Will speaks about why mental health abroad is so important and shares things to consider and do to keep yourself healthy in a completely different country.
We have been in London for almost a month now, but it feels like a year. The excitement is waning and we are all starting to realize we are actually in school (and subsequently, have schoolwork).
Meanwhile, I am hearing about more people needing to take “mental health days” from their classes or internships. Personally, I have felt days become almost impossible to get through without feeling weepy and exhausted. This was expected, of course. We were all warned that mental health is more extreme when you go abroad.
A photo from some mental-health-focused time when I nested a bit to make myself more at home.
Having bipolar myself, I am starting to notice my emotional lows are beginning to emerge to balance the highs that have been carrying me through the past few weeks. It would be misleading to say I have solved it with my absolutely infallible coping skills, but I have gotten to a point where I know the steps I need to take in order to bring myself back to a place where I can keep being productive and making the most out of my time here.
I need to be comfortable staying behind. Yes, mental health days are good for you, and please take them; it is just as important, though, to not overexert yourself on weekends. There is a lot of pressure to fit as many activities as possible in the little time you have. For me, I want to do everything I can to solidify relationships here, so I try to accept any invitation to go do something.
However, I recently realized I was putting a lot more pressure on myself to do these things than I thought I was. Taking a break relieves a weight off my shoulders that I never knew was there.
Doing more relaxing activities like leisurely exploring local markets, like Notting Hill Market, is a good way to get out while not overexerting yourself.
I am also meeting and living with a lot of new people. I share a room with two other girls, and I love them, but that doesn’t change the fact that I only really met them four weeks ago. I can’t always say “hey, so my bipolar is acting up” and expect them to understand or feel comfortable knowing about that part of me.
Everyone feels a bit of shame sharing their mental health with new people, so it is important to remember that people at home are a text message or call away. Also, writing down your emotions in between classes or just before bed is a huge help.
Something that seriously affects your mental health is the London clouds. It is never the first culprit that you blame, but the short, sunless days weigh you down. For a lot of us, we work and have class 9:00-5:00, five days a week, so we only really see sunlight during our commute and on weekends.
Cloudy commute to work, but with the highlight of an artsy cat.
I cannot stress enough the power of a morning or lunch-break walk. Listen to music (or even better, the sounds of the city), take deep breaths, and take in everything going on around you. Less deep than that, you can also take vitamin D supplements! They do wonders.
Walking in between class and work in the Financial District, Central London.
Lastly, sometimes allowing yourself to feel all your emotions is the healthiest thing you can do. For me, I talk a lot in my elevated moods, so when I come down from them it is my opportunity to listen to others more than I speak. When I need to stay home, I often make to-do lists, do laundry, or just write. All of these things are therapeutic and positive. Think about your mental health days, hours, or minutes as opportunities to reorganize your thoughts and emotions, and prepare yourself for the better days ahead.
A facet of self-care not mentioned, but still important: comfort food.
Your mental health is so important when abroad, and focusing on keeping myself healthy is second-handedly helping me process my experience more deeply than I would have if I was fine all the time. Mental illness isn’t fun, but it does allow for new challenges and a lot of growth.
Will Baldwin is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2020, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Technical Writing and Communications and Political Science major at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Will's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.