Tips you may have overlooked to help keep your mental health in check

There’s no doubt that, as an international student in a foreign country, you’ll emerge from the experience with new knowledge about a different part of the world but also about yourself! However, getting out of your comfort zone can be a struggle. Whether you’re completing a course overseas or taking part in a shorter exchange programme, international students are required to adapt to a completely new environment, culture, group of friends, education system, and sometimes even language; and all in a very short timeframe.

I have found the work-load at the University of Amsterdam pretty difficult to keep up with among everything else I’ve been trying to juggle. I had a lot of deadlines and an exam period which I found pretty overwhelming, and it was easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself to friends who were doing well (grades wise) and in every other aspect you could possibly (over)think of. In this moment I asked myself, am I taking care of myself and my mental health? So instead of trying to tackle the rest of my reading list I’m here writing a blogpost, because looking after ourselves is more important than pretending I know what’s going on in tomorrows seminar.

Here are a few tips to look after yourself whilst on study abroad and a list of some resources that are available to you if you live or study in Amsterdam more specifically.

Go-to’s for the lonelier times

check out @thefabstory on Instagram

You don’t need to be physically alone to feel lonely, loneliness is a very common feeling and sometimes it comes with a simple change in weather. You can shift feelings of loneliness with a few routine habits.

Silence your inner critic

Stop comparing yourself to other people and instead set yourself some realistic goals – both academically and personally. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, when you do notice your negative thoughts, take a moment to actively listen to them.

You can use this self-care checklist to keep on top of your new realistic goals

Keep a journal

it’s simple but effective. Writing down your thoughts while you’re on exchange is a healthy outlet for expressing and managing your emotions. Writing can give you a balanced perspective on your exchange. Document the good, the bad and the seemingly uneventful: problems, hopes, behaviours, concerns, positive self-talk, and anything else that occupies your thoughts.

It’s okay to not be a social butterfly 24/7

Study abroad can feel pretty full on, especially in terms of socialising. You are constantly meeting new people and it can be hard to balance finding the time for yourself in the midst of it all. As an introvert myself, I value my own space and time for reflection, so I have really struggled with this, but at the same time, it’s important to continue to make time for things that make you happy, even when it feels like you don’t have enough hours in the day. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best version of yourself, and know that it’s okay to say no to some social events to focus on yourself instead.

Live in the present

Try to resist the urge to constantly call and message your friends and family at home. Embrace their sudden absence with enthusiasm and try see your exchange as an opportunity to connect with all aspects of your new environment. Put yourself out there and make the effort to meet new friends. Putting down your phone and taking a break from social media can also help, the universe is so much more interesting than any social media alert will be.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a balanced state of awareness in which thoughts and feelings are non-judgementally observed as they are-without avoiding or changing them, but also without exaggerating or running away from them. Learning how to deal with stress is important, and mindfulness can help. Relaxation exercises can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. Mindfulness for students by Stella Cottrell is a book I would really recommend. Also, freemindfulness.org is a great website for free-to-download mindfulness meditation exercises.

Get help

Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness.

Your university (both at home and away) are also here to help you and ensure you are well whilst on your study abroad, so do not hesitate to contact them.

Useful resources, both at the University of Amsterdam and in the city

  1. I have made use of the free mindfulness course for HvA and UvA students. This is a course that is free to enrol onto and lasts 6 weeks. I am really enjoying it so far and have met a lot of like minded people I otherwise would never have got to know. If you want to register onto the course or find out more about it: https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/training-and-workshops/psychological-support/mindfulness/mindfulness.html
  2. The University of Amsterdam offers its students ‘contemplation rooms’ across its various campuses. These spaces are neutral and inclusive, so students can reflect or meditate in a peaceful and safe environment:https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/contemplation-rooms/contemplation-rooms.html?origin=KRqlSCJvTWW3Nl%2FRMdykVg
  3. Within the UvA, there are several departments to which you can turn for help, contact a student counsellor or a psychologist here: https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/health-and-wellbeing/themes/mental-health.html
  4. CREA, which is located on Roeterseiland campus is open to both the public and students and runs free mindfulness drop in sessions as well as creative activities to help you de-stress and look after yourself, physically and mentally. Check their timetable here: https://www.crea.nl/cursussen/body-and-mind/?lang=en

I’ve been stressed but I’m reminding myself that these new challenges and feelings of incompetency are indicators that I’m entering new levels both at uni and self growth. And that’s amazing.

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