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.