It is true that traveling, and in particular staying abroad on your own, is great fun and a life-changing experience in many ways. The memories will stay with you forever and the experiences will shape your personality more than you suspect now. There’s so much to learn, so much to do, and so many places to see!
The flip side of it is that living in a foreign country in an alien culture can make you feel like a fish out of water at times. Even if all your housemates are incredibly nice, even if your grades at the university are excellent, and even if you’ve landed yourself a hot boyfriend.
There will be times you don’t feel good, are homesick, or simply want to run away. Festive times are the worst, particularly Christmas. Depending on how strong you have been emotionally and mentally up until now will also go a long way in determining how well you tackle your low moments and prevent them from growing into full-blown crises.
Four years of living in Australia on my own has taught me a lot about finding my way through the low and dark times. The first year was the hardest. But it got better. The following are tried and tested tactics to regain your sense of perspective and cheer yourself up when you feel overwhelmed, and are thousands of miles away from people who really care about you. I learned it the hard way, but maybe you can learn something from my experience and handle an emotional crisis better than I did in the beginning.
Develop a Solid Routine
A bit of a confession – for all my adventure-seeking impulses, I’m actually quite a homebody, who likes nothing more than lounging around the house in pajamas, getting up late, having breakfast at leisure, and watching at least one good movie every other day. I hate routines because they tie me down. And they are so not fun!
The con to it is that being so laidback is also the fastest way of losing grip on things.
Your studies suffer, your work starts getting delayed, you don’t work out as much as you should, and we all know that not being able to fit into our favorite pair of jeans can send even the best of us spiraling into anxiety! OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
A solid routine is the best thing you can do for yourself when times are tough, simply because it will carry you through your day by making sure you get all the important things done.
That would mean going to bed and getting up on a schedule, eating healthy at least 70% of the time, working out a few days a month, attending classes regularly, and finishing your assignments on time.
Even if you feel like you’re about to have a meltdown of sorts, keep going. Let the force of a good routine be your guide!
Make Time to Meditate
I’m a huge, huge believer in meditation, as that’s the one thing that keeps me sane and on track. Meditation keeps us calm and focused, which is of great need when we feel unsettled. And moving abroad is definitely among the most unsettling things you’ll experience. Everything around you is new and you are constantly growing and evolving in this environment. It can feel like too much. Meditation will keep you grounded and on top of a fast-changing life. I believe that the combination of meditation and sleep is the best medication for a troubled mind. Has worked like a charm for me!
If you’re the religious type, pray with all your heart and strengthen your faith. You’ll feel instantly better. Regular prayer and/or meditation sessions lead to cumulative gains. Much like working out builds your muscle, these strengthen your mind. So that the next time you’re faced with a wave of self-doubt, you’ll be a lot stronger to deal with it.
Don’t Neglect Your Appearance
The first casualty of depression is our body. We start neglecting it because our mind starts taking up all our energy and time (with the incessant negative thoughts and doomsday talk). Then when it’s time for us to attend that party we realize we are looking a lot worse for the wear, and that demotivates us even more.
Vanity is not all bad; in fact, it can keep us sane. If it forces you to look after yourself, it’s a good thing, especially when you are down. No matter what’s going on in your life, make it a point to work out every other day, or at least three times a week. Keep your skin freshly scrubbed, your hair soft and styled, and your hands and feet manicured. Keep your style quotient intact. On the days your mind goes blank slip into a pair of leggings, an oversized top, a long cardigan/shrug, and a pair of high heel sandals. Instant style-makeover! A touch of lipstick and a brush of rouge will perk you up and carry you through the day. Create your own pool of go-to looks for emotionally draining days. They will sort you out when you’re in a zombie mode or when you’re simply stuck for ideas.
Work on Developing a Strong Identity
Accepting yourself the way you are makes life a lot more livable and easy. If you’re the kind who loves to feast on doughnuts every once in a while and tends to be on the plump side, so be it. If you’re a geeky girl who would rather spend her weekends reading a psychological thriller than hanging out with friends at all the cool places, so be it. Give yourself the permission to be the way you are and do the things you like. That is your identity and you need to feel very secure in it. Otherwise there’s a chance you might face an identity crisis when thrown in the middle of a vibrant international city where everybody is completely different to you, follows a religion you know not much about, and seems to be very set in their ways. By all means try your best to blend in and enjoy new experiences on offer, but don’t get so carried away that you lose touch with who you are.
Never Forget Why You Are There in the First Place
Why did you leave your country, your friends, family, and life as you knew it, to travel abroad? What was it that took you to these alien shores? When times are not great we tend to regret our decisions. Don’t. You chose to travel abroad because you wanted to see life on the other side. You wanted to see the world, and how they live, and what makes people everywhere click. Many have taken this road before you and have returned a lot richer for it. Reawaken that spirit of adventure in you and you will regain your perspective.
Sometimes It’s Alright to Break Down
Nothing is more natural in this world than feeling low and wanting to just cry your heart out. If it gets to a point where you simply can’t take it anymore, give yourself the permission to break down. And don’t judge yourself for it. Let it all out. Sometimes it’s good to let go. But equally important is for you to give yourself a cut-off point, and make sure you don’t let yourself go beyond it. Because if you do, you may find it very difficult to regain control of yourself. The tide of emotions or despondency is heavy. It needs to be checked before it overwhelms you.