Dealing with anxiety abroad

Dealing with anxiety abroad

The thing I was most anxious about beginning my study abroad experience in Denmark was being anxious while studying abroad. I’ve always been an anxious person. I worry constantly, overthink everything and cry whenever life gets too tough. I panic before the first day of class, before meeting new people, before going somewhere I’ve never been … before everything. Study abroad was a big move for me. So, before the experience, I spoke with my doctor and learned the reasoning behind my lifetime of worry. But, my anxiety hasn’t stopped me from having an incredible experience abroad. Still, some days I begin to spiral down the rabbit hole of overthinking everything. Still other days, I feel the worry buzz within me like a caffeine high. Listed below are a few of my own methods for dealing with anxiety both abroad and at home. These tactics can be used by anyone, whether they have anxiety or not. I use them as stress relievers and when I need to press pause on life. Most of all, I do these things when I want to find a piece of home while living halfway across the world. These tactics have helped me, so I am hoping they help others as well.

** note: I am no doctor and this advice does not qualify as professional advice. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, talk to someone. DIS Copenhagen has resources available here. The important thing to know is that you’re not alone. If you have any questions regarding my own experiences with mental health abroad, feel free to contact me via email.

 

1. Phone a friend 

Reaching out to people is usually my first line of defense when those anxious feelings creep up. I call my mom (if you’re reading this, thanks Mom for being my rock), or my sisters or my friends from home. I’m lucky enough to have some of my best friends studying here in Copenhagen. The picture below is from a day when I was feeling overwhelmed by life and my friend Sarah took me on an adventure to Norrebro to enjoy the sunshine and drink hot chocolate. Sometimes the best way to push through the hard times is to do it with others by your side. 

2. Watch a movie 

Sometimes, when my mind is racing at Olympic speeds, I just need to slow it down. I often turn to Pixar movies when I’m feeling this way. My friends used to say that they always knew I was feeling off when they would come into my room and I was buried under my covers with a Pixar movie playing. It helps, I swear! And, the Netflix here in Denmark has a fantastic offering of movies so if you’re not a Pixar fan (although you might be crazy in that case), you will likely find something more up your alley.

3. Work up a sweat 

This semester, I made an investment in my body and mind. I signed up for a student membership at Hot Yoga Copenhagen. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made all semester. I am no Yogi master — I had barely taken any yoga classes in the past let alone HOT yoga. But, my lack of experience hasn’t made a huge difference. The studio is so welcoming and the instructors are fantastic. I walk out of there feeling more at ease than when I walked in. Oh, and I’ve never sweat as much as I do during those sessions. Literally dripping sweat. When I’m feeling particularly stressed, I go to the candlelit meditations. And the best part? STUDENT DISCOUNT!!

Hot Yoga Copenhagen: Located just a five-minute walk from DIS, this cozy studio offers seven classes every day throughout the week, making it easy to fit into your schedule. Their student deal is 1500 DKK for 3 months. Just show up to your first class 20 minutes before and say you are a DIS student (taken directly from the DIS Sports & Recreations resource page) 

4. Write it out! 

I’m a huge fan of journaling. It’s easy for me, especially when I’m sad or angry or annoyed at the world, to scribble down my thoughts. It’s a kind of therapy and incredibly cathartic. I turn on some music (I’d recommend the Mood Booster Spotify playlist) and write away. But writing doesn’t work for everyone. If that’s the case, try the Daylio Journal App. It works as a diary but you don’t have to write a single line. Instead, you fill in daily moods and activities. Just by clicking a few buttons, you can keep track of your moods and habits. It helps me because if I’m feeling in a funk, I can look at the patterns. Seeing the last time I recorded having a bad day reminds me that things always get better. Always.

5. Sugar and spice makes everything nice …

In other words, bake! I sometimes find that just by doing something with my hands — cracking an egg, stirring flour into a bowl, rolling out cookie dough — I distract my mind. It’s easy to give into the desire to curl up in a ball on your bed and refuse to get up. But, walking from the bed to your kitchen is a short distance and a small step closer to feeling better. So turn on some Frank Sinatra and get cooking! You’ll thank me when you can eat your accomplishments. 

6. Treat yo’ self

This past week, I was feeling the middle of semester blues … I was a bit homesick and, because many of my friends are travelling this week, a bit lonely. After watching one too many Pixar movies (correction: there can never be too many Pixar movies), I decided to treat myself to a manicure at a nail salon down the street. I don’t often get my nails done but I’m glad I did. I felt pampered and taken care of. For the rest of the day, everytime I looked down at my rosy pink nails, I smiled and felt a little more myself.

Other ways to treat yo’ self: get a massage, take yourself out to dinner, do an at home spa, listen to your favorite music, retail therapy, take a nap, eat something decadent and unhealthy, clean, go through your closet, etc. 

6. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate … 

I really don’t think I need to explain this one. (Pictured below: chocolate and banana deliciousness from Brioche Doree sweet shop at the Glass Market)

7. Pray about it 

I realize this one doesn’t apply to everyone. However, my faith is very important to me. When I’m feeling down, I turn to God for support. I fold my hands and close my eyes and begin mentally rambling and somehow … it helps. 

8. Live the Hygge life 

Danes are said to be the happiest people in the world because they Hygge (hoo-ga). I’ve written about this concept before (you can read here), but to recap, Hygge is enjoying life through a warm and cozy atmosphere with good things and good people. I get that sometimes when we are overwhelmed or stressed — either by schoolwork or applications or life in general — the last thing we want to do is slow down and enjoy it. We don’t have time for that! But, slowing down and discovering the Hygge can combat those feelings of being overwhelmed. It can be as simple as lighting some candles while doing your schoolwork or drinking a warm cup of tea when the feeling of anxiety gets bad. Or it could be playing board games with your housemates, wearing cozy socks, hanging twinkle lights to make your room feel a little more homey, cooking a meal with friends crafting a gift or buying yourself a bouquet of flowers just because.

9. Breathe the Danish air

Take a deep breath. You’ve got this! Now take an even deeper breath but this time do it outside. Back in high school, my tactic for feeling stressed or anxious was taking walks outside. I’d call up my friend Monica and we’d walk along the sidewalks of our suburban town and chat until we’d feel better. Maybe it was the good conversation or the “I walk it out” mentality, but we’d always feel better. The other day, I met with my visiting host and walked around Roskilde, a viking town west of Copenhagen. She pointed out a mental hospital near the fjord. Apparently in Denmark, the early mental hospitals were all located in nature, picturesque areas. They believed that a beautiful scene and some fresh air would help the patients feel more at ease. So breathe and enjoy the view. 

10. Realize it gets better

I think the one of the scariest things about having anxiety is wondering if it ever gets better. In the moment of an anxiety attack or while spiraling in your own thoughts, it sometimes feels impossible to find that silver lining. Being abroad can add to that stress. But (and there is a but), I promise it gets better. Our emotions have a wide range of ups and downs because we are human. It does get better.

There are also online resources found through a quick Google search with more tips and tricks to handling anxiety abroad and at home. 

Livin la vida local

Livin la vida local

How many times in your life do you get to be a local? Like how many times you get to know a place, truly know a place, and feel like you’re at home? Studying abroad gives students an opportunity to create a home in a place they would have never imagined. It gives them the opportunity to blend in or stand out in another culture (wearing bright colors = standing out big time), to find their favorite coffee shops (I’d definitely recommend Den Lille Gule Kaffebar) and study spaces (my room … all the shops in Copenhagen close early). Every day, as I discover more about this city, I feel more like a local. Whenever I navigate my way without my GPS or dress properly for the weather, I do a small victory dance. I’ve even added a few more favorites to my list. The more I see, experience and eat, the less of a tourist I become.

 

This weekend was the first completely free weekend for most of us DIS students. There were no obligations, very little homework and a level of comfort with our new friends that we didn’t have before. It was the perfect weekend to travel – to fly to a new city and explore the world beyond Copenhagen. And many DIS students traveled to Paris, to Berlin, to London. Yet for me, I refrained from buying a plane ticket. It’s not that I don’t want to see the world – I do and I will – but there’s a whole world right outside my door. I have my entire life to be a tourist in cities outside of my home. This might be the only time, however, that I experience a place like this as a local.

 

So this weekend was my weekend to discover Copenhagen. I walked in almost every store on Strøget. All I bought was a t-shirt because everything is SO expensive here. I baked brownies with my roommates … well, actually we baked chocolate cake because they’re apparently the same thing here. I bought produce at the Glass Market (add that to my list of favorite things in Copenhagen) and experienced both snow and rain during one weekend here.

  

On the right: My roomie Bella and I trying on wildly expensive berets …

On Sunday, I visited the Kronborg Castle with 8 of my 14 LLC roommates. The castle is about an hour out of Copenhagen by train and sits along the seafront and apparently the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Unlike the demolished castles I had seen in Ireland and Scotland, this castle was perfectly intact and, with its grandiose ballroom, high ceilings and ornate tapestries on the walls, I could picture a gala or a wedding here (if I marry a Danish prince maybe …?). 

 

A woman, the “Queen’s lady-in-waiting,” guided us on the tour around my future home. We ended the tour in the gift shop looking at miniature castle figurines and Danish flags. One of my friends rounded up the rest of the group, ready for the next thing. The plan? Hurrying to catch a train in ten minutes and visiting a museum considered the best in Denmark. I decided to stay back, itching to explore this seaside village.

Pictured: My future home?

So I explored. My roommate Bella and I wandered around hungry and exhausted until we found food – a food market actually. Although held in a giant warehouse, the market was warm and cozy, buzzing with the chatter of those eating lunch and playing board games. It was a pitstop for tourists, a hub for locals and a collection of food from all over the world. The two of us shared a basket of fish and chips – my absolute favorite food – and enjoyed just staying in one place. We weren’t rushing to find the next big thing.

I don’t think there’s just one way to travel. I don’t think hitting up every tourist spot is wrong (they are tourist spots for a reason). I don’t even think hitting up every country every weekend is wrong. I do think, however, that that moment in the market was my favorite of the day. My favorite part of the day wasn’t exploring the tourist spot that is Hamlet’s castle (although let’s be real, I nerded out just a bit because it’s Hamlet’s castle). I loved just sitting in the town center surrounded by good food and good people. It felt genuine, my roommate and I just enjoying one another’s company. My goal for this semester is to have as many of those moments as possible. I want to explore aimlessly and discover the off-the-grid places. I want to see what the tourists don’t and find where the locals love. I don’t think there’s just one way to travel, but I think that that is my favorite.

How (not) to pack for a semester abroad

How (not) to pack for a semester abroad

I am exactly one week out from my departure from Chicago to … Denmark!! I’m feeling all the feelings – anxious, excited, a little sleepy from the holidays. It’s all come so soon. It feels like just yesterday I was shuffling through the DIS pamphlet thinking, “Hmm. This seems like a pretty cool program. Maybe I should apply.”  I cannot believe that this time next week I’ll be on a plane. I’ll be crankily squished between two unwilling strangers, trying to moderate my body temperature with a blanket scarf, but looking to the silver lining that is airplane movies. I’ll be counting down the hours til my plane lands in Copenhagen, til I arrive at my LLC, til I begin my crazy semester abroad. However, I still have a week until I even step foot on this magical plane ride across the sea and let me tell you, I have a LOT to do *cough cough packing* before I leave. But first, I’d like to list how not to pack for a semester abroad because I am way better at that than I am at actually packing. 

  1. Think about the semester for four months before you leave without actually packing anything. You may feel the desire to write down a packing list or begin collecting items to take with you abroad. RESIST THE URGE. Continue deeply contemplating your time abroad. Journal about it. Think some more. Stay up nights thinking about all your plans traveling all across Europe, all the fun classes you’re going to take, all the people you will meet (marrying a Danish prince, but who’s thinking about that?). But whatever you do, do NOT start packing. 
  2. Make a Pinterest board and pin every Danish/Scandinavian/Hygge/Study Abroad post on the internet. You can see mine here. I’ve obviously spent way too much time pinning.
  3. Start a blog!
  4. Wait until a week before you leave to even fancy the idea of packing … I’ve still got time.via GIPHY
  5. Literally weep over the Christmas gifts you won’t be able to bring because of the DIS packing recommendations (here’s looking at you, weighted blanket).
  6. Binge watch travel movies instead of packing (Next on my list: Into the Wild, The Way, Wild).
  7. Create a Spotify wanderlust playlist instead of packing. 
  8. Research all the ways you can bring your curling iron abroad. Despite the big WARNING on the Wikipedia page, you might consider still bringing it. 
  9. Research your future life abroad via social media. Look up the hashtags for everything even slightly related to your location (#danmark, #allgoodthingsdanish, #hygge, #visitcopenhagen). Follow the past DIS bloggers’ Instagram accounts. Then, go through the Facebook group page made for the people in your program and sift through the members. These people could be your future best friends, don’t you want to online stalk them before you leave? Yes, there may be 1,070 members to go through but you’ve got a week before you leave. What else are you going to do, pack? HA.
  10. Make lots and lots of lists. Then revise the lists. Post the lists online. 

Once you have completed all these items on the list, you may begin to pack.