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Self Care

The student experience

Self-Care & Mental Wellness Abroad


Picture of Kangaroo and Parrot with caption Hey JoeyMental Wellness Abroad

If you have ever experienced a mental health condition, or are concerned about mental health abroad, consider disclosing this information to your Education Abroad Advisor, and speak to a health professional about your upcoming travel. Disclosing mental health concerns will not affect your application to participate in an education abroad program. Before any international experience, be sure to:

  • Meet with your mental health professional to discuss how you will manage your health abroad. As applicable, consider how you will travel with prescription medicine.
  • Understand that pre-existing conditions that you have successfully managed here at home may flare up while you are adjusting to a new culture and life in your host country.
  • It is important to have a support network and realistic communication plan in place. Work with your health professional to discuss your options and consider how you will stay in communication with your friends, family and support network.
  • It is normal to encounter some difficulty when adapting to your life abroad. Consider the differences between cultural adjustment, which commonly manifests itself in symptoms that mirror mental health concerns, and more long-term and pervasive depression or poor coping mechanisms, such as excessive alcohol use.

*Adapted from Colorado State University’s Health page.


Please make note of the resources available to you to maintain your mental wellness abroad:


Self-Care and Well-Being Abroad 

Studying abroad can be exciting, exhilarating, and full of adventure, but if you are always go-go-go, you can quickly wear yourself out. That’s why it’s more than okay to take a break and practice some self-care.

Read on to find out common sources of stress while abroad, and they suggest and take time to figure out what self-care looks like for you.


Barcelona, spain and EcuadorCommon Sources of Stress While Abroad

  • Loneliness: Loneliness is common and you are not alone in feeling lonely. 

    Ways to help with this source of stress are: 
      • Deep breathing: Deep breathing fosters regulation and self-soothing. It can be used as an in-the-moment coping strategy for distress and can make the other skills more meaningful.
      • Thought distancing: Also termed cognitive diffusion, thought distancing recognizes thoughts and emotions as internal constructs that should be acknowledged, but should not be the basis for behavior.
      • Reflection: Reflection focuses on taking the big picture into account. To be reflective is to have a balanced perspective of the past and present, as well as thinking about opportunities for future change.
         
  • Cultural Adjustment (aka “Culture Shock”): Feeling out of sorts, or dealing with emotional ups and downs is normal as you begin adapting to the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable while abroad. These feelings are signals that you are going through a cultural transition.

    Ways to help with this source of stress are: 
      • Mindfulness: Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment, with a curious, non-judgmental stance. 
      • Reflection: Reflection focuses on taking the big picture into account. To be reflective is to have a balanced perspective of the past and present, as well as thinking about opportunities for future change.
      • Values-based action: Values-based action constitutes taking action based on your values. Instead of reacting to our own thoughts and feelings; it can be used with the other skills to help us respond in a way that is in accordance with our values.
         
  • Group Conflict:  This is common as you make new friends abroad and have differences within the group.

    Ways to help with this source of stress are: 
      • Reflection: Reflection focuses on taking the big picture into account. To be reflective is to have a balanced perspective of the past and present, as well as thinking about opportunities for future change.
      • Assertiveness: Assertiveness means communicating and asserting our needs. It is important not only to be aware of our needs, but to be able to effectively communicate these needs while strengthening a relationship.
      • Values-based action: Values-based action constitutes taking action based on your values. Instead of reacting to our own thoughts and feelings; it can be used with the other skills to help us respond in a way that is in accordance with our values.

To learn more about common stressors while abroad and how to build resiliency skills to combat those stressors, please visit the University of Michigan's Resilient Traveling page.


Self-Care Techniques 

  • Eat well, exercise keep a mood journal
  • Breath! Slow Down
  • Build in personal time or breaks
  • Expect Fatigue
  • Consult with mentors & peers
  • Develop a support network
  • Stay alert to the signals as a sign of change
  • Minimize catastrophic thinking; turn “What if’s” into “What else”


Resources, Guides and Personal Stories

For resources on sources of stress and coping techniques while traveling, visit the University of Michigan's Resilient Traveling page.

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