Battling Anxiety Abroad

Carly Wormmeester is a student at Grand Valley State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently participating in service-learning with ISA Service- Learning in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

College students are no strangers to anxiety. From finals to finances, the college years can be a stressful and overwhelming time for many students. For those studying abroad, these feelings are often compounded by the inevitable anxiety of learning to survive and thrive in a foreign country. In the U.S. alone, anxiety disorders affect nearly 1 in 5 people. If you struggle with anxiety, first of all, know that you are not alone. Secondly, know that having anxiety should not stop you from pursuing your study abroad dreams. Here are some tips I’ve learned to manage my anxiety while abroad in the Dominican Republic.

Tip #1 -Take a time-out.

When you feel yourself starting to get anxious and overwhelmed, don’t ignore it. Take a step back and breathe. In a new environment, we are often overstimulated with all the unfamiliar sights and sounds flooding our brains at once. If you are at home or in your dorm, go into a quiet room and shut the door. If you are in a public place, find a restroom or ask a friend to step away from the crowd with you.

Tip #2-Don’t be so hard on yourself.

When we feel anxious, our initial reaction is to compile a mental list of all the mistakes we’ve made and come to the ultimate conclusion that no one likes us and we are doomed. Don’t go down that road, my friend. If you find yourself feeling anxious, remind yourself that studying abroad is not easy. Think of all the accomplishments big and small you’ve made while abroad. Come up with a personal mantra you can recite to yourself when you feel the gloom and doom. My personal favorite: “I am the best me there could ever be.”

Tip #3- Establish a support system.

Studying abroad can feel isolating because we are away from the comfort of family and friends. Don’t be afraid to reach out to new friends when you are feeling anxious. Chances are they can relate to feeling anxious and better yet, they probably know the best local place to get a gallon of ice cream.

Tip #4- Be your own advocate.

Going abroad introduces a whole new type of independence. With it, comes the responsibility of taking care of yourself. At home, our friends and family are attuned to our needs. This may not be the case in a foreign country so it is imperative to know what you need and ask for it. Even though it may be uncomfortable to explain to professors, host families or new friends, speak up and let others know what they can do to help you manage your anxiety.

Tip #5- Do what scares you.

I don’t mean getting into the car with a stranger at night, those types of fears are healthy fears. I mean staring your anxiety in the face and laughing at it. If studying abroad sounds like the scariest, most intimidating experience ever, do it. If living in a foreign country where no one speaks your language gives you shivers, do it. Avoidance only limits you from the possibility of experiencing something new and unforgettable.

The world awaits…discover it.


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