When you look to your upcoming semester abroad, you usually feel excited to start a new journey that will probably change your life, and shape your personality. That was my case when I was accepted to my exchange program at TU Dortmund in Germany. Despite the fact that I could not find all of the courses I needed, I was elated to see another country, discover the culture, and make the best of my time there. The only thing that I was not expecting was getting an anxiety attack hours before my flight to visit a beautiful city in Italy called Palermo.
I managed to enjoy my trip with the new friends I made, and see most of the city, but I could not get over the fear of having another anxiety attack. Now after three weeks later, I still experience that fear sometimes, but I promised myself not to give up to it and try to enjoy my time here and study. Here are some tips if you ever find yourself in my situation, drowning in panic and homesickness.
- Remind yourself that you are strong and that the fear should not get any little part of you. I got this advice when I visited a therapist that my school referred me to. It is important to address the issue to your coordinator at the international office, ISEP staff, or other resources at your host university. I personally think it’s essential to know from the first day how you can get student counselling. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so make sure to know the department you can contact if anything happens.
- Some advice I got from my roommate is to surround yourself with people who care about you. Make friends and enjoy life. Keep your friends closer to you and talk to them about what you feel. If you do not get the chance to meet a lot of people or make friends you can trust with your mental health issues, try to maintain your relationship with friends that you know back home. For my experience, I met different kinds of people. I have encountered people who were ready to jump on a plane with me to go home, change the air and come back, but I also came across people who would not care how their words would affect my situation. Therefore, my advice for you is to surround yourself with those people who can help you and in return always be there for people who need emotional support, and know that every nice word you say to them is helpful and encouraging.
- Motivate yourself: Any time I felt weak and unable to think about anything else beside the possibility of getting an anxiety attack again, I would remind myself that I can do all the things that I feel that I can’t do at that moment. Sometimes, I felt afraid of being alone, so being on public transportation without anybody by my side scared me, and made me think that I would not be able to make it home. I started to challenge myself, and began to travel to nearby cities alone proving to myself that everything was in my head and that none of it is actually true. Confronting my fear by travelling helped me to discover new places, new people, and definitely more about myself.
- Do the things you like even if you feel like you can’t do them. There might come a time when you feel like you are not enjoying the things you like or that you are not in the right state of mind that enables you to do so. My advice to you: Do them anyway. Travel, read, write, or swim. Whatever made you happy before will certainly bring excitement to your life again. And remember everything you try now, if it will not help you, it will not hurt you.
- Write everything down. Get a journal and document everything you’re doing. Make every blank paper a source of motivation. A journal will most likely make you excited to fill it with joyful and interesting experiences. It is a unique way to remind yourself that what you are going through is nothing but a small part of the wonderful life you are having. I am sure that with time, the journal will push you to plan things so you can write it there for the “future you” so they can see how strong you were. And remembering everything you are going through is part of the journey you are having to explore both faraway lands and your own subconscious. Embrace it, and make it a strength because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
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