Learning how to practice self care abroad has been essential for me, as I have severe anxiety and depression and deciding to move abroad scared me more than anything in my life ever has. I was terrified of what was going to happen without immediate availability to my support system (Wow! What a lighthearted way to start an article!). Once abroad, it took me a long time to adjust. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising, and I had a horrible, almost non-existent, sleep schedule. I knew I wasn’t taking advantage of my time abroad and decided to change that when I realized almost a month had gone by. The next morning I woke up, made myself breakfast, took a shower, and listened to some pump-up music before my 10am; I hadn’t felt that energized or accomplished in weeks. These may sound like things normal people do on a daily basis, but when I’m in a slump it can be hard to do anything. That was the day I decided I would make a self-care routine and stick to it.
The “self-care” practice has become a bit of a joke that involves a routine of taking a bubble bath, shopping online, and sleeping all day long #treatyoself. In reality, self-care requires us to realize what we need in our day to keep us motivated and feeling good. Everyone’s needs are different; while you might need to be by yourself and rest, some people might need a reason to go out or exercise. Your self-care routine could be daily, preventative, exciting, or unexpected, so listen to what you need in order to take control of what is best for you.
Below I have a list of different self-care habits — take what you want or come up with your own, but I can promise you prioritizing your mental and physical health through self-care is the best thing you can do for yourself, both when you study abroad and in your life in general.
Find a time and place to be alone– Read a book in a park, drink some coffee in a café, journal on campus, or go out and photograph the city (this is my favorite thing to do). Don’t just sit in bed alone and watch a Netflix series all day or you’ll feel you’ve wasted one of the few days you have abroad
Take something off your to-do list– Turn on a great playlist and fold your laundry or clean your room. This should be a time to get something done and feel accomplished over the little things.
Take care of your health throughout the day– Drink a lot of water, eat some fruit and veggies, and take your vitamins. Self-care isn’t always a big display; sometimes it’s just doing what you know is best for your body.
Exercising– This may not be something you want to hear, but it is so important. You need to get up and move around! You don’t have to go to them gym or run for miles, but just walk around your city with friends.
Stay off social media at night– This is a very special one for me because I have serious FOMO. I love social media and seeing what my friends are up to, but at the end of my day most of my friends are just getting started. I could stay up all night talking to them or watching their stories, but I need to remind myself to get rested for my adventures the next day.
Basic needs– Yes, this needs to be said! Sometimes, it’s hard to remember to brush your teeth every morning when you’re running late for class (ew, gross, but you know it’s true!) or wash your hair when you can just throw it in a bun and call it a day; but, some of the best parts of my self-care routine are the normal things like washing my hair or sleeping or even eating. Having my own self-care routine has helped me manage my anxiety and depression by pushing me to do things I know will help me. Some days I don’t do any of the things on my list and that is ok, but the next day I pick myself back up and start again. I have given myself permission to do things just for me. At first, I thought “oh this is a present to me” and then that turned to “I feel selfish for putting myself first” and finally I reached “without this I can’t operate the way I need to, so too bad”. Never feel bad about taking care of yourself before everything else because you are the most important thing you have.
If you need help, are overwhelmed, or have a mental illness remember you can always reach out if self-care practices aren’t all you need. There are so many resources and activities on campus that will help you become engaged and get out of your funk. Our staff is here to make this the most rewarding opportunity of your life, so use every day to make it just that.
Isabel Lohr is an English and Secondary Education major at the University of Tulsa and studies with IFSA at Queen Mary University of London in Spring 2019. She is an International Correspondent from IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.