10 ways to be mindful of your health whilst abroad

This article was written by Alexia Cowley, published on 18th February 2016 and has been read 3447 times.

Living abroad? Feel like you should therefore be having the time of your life? But instead find yourself mentally and physically anchored to your room? (so much so you feel part of the furniture). This is quite ‘normal’, and yet we still associate not having ‘the time of your life’ abroad as ‘abnormal’ or rather; failure. What should be brought to light, is the fact that one in four UK citizens will have suffered from a mental health problem each year [Mind.org 2016]. This statistic really does bring home the phenomenal scale of just how many people are affected by mental health issues, for example, anxiety or depression. So although you may feel anxious, lonely, or depressed; you are certainly not alone.

Being abroad, far away from your core support system of family and friends at home, can certainly trigger the onset of homesickness and feelings of helplessness. If you have never had a recognised mental health issue, and yet you have inescapable feelings of sadness and withdrawal to the point where you do not feel like yourself anymore, then visit your local English-speaking doctor. There are so many different options to enhance your mental wellbeing. Equally, if you already have had a mental health issue recognised and treated before moving abroad, then these next steps about how to care for your mental health and wellbeing abroad, should be of great benefit...

1. Keep in touch with family and friends

I cannot stress this enough. Although you are not physically with your family and friends from home, it is so important that you maintain your relationships whilst away. They are no doubt thinking of you, wondering what you are up to, and how you are getting on abroad. Regular phone-calls to home, WhatsApp conversations and Skype sessions can really alleviate the overwhelming feelings of loneliness. Confiding in the ones you love and trust is perhaps the richest form of emotional support. Maybe even plan a trip for your family or friends from home to visit you!

2. Make plans in the country you are in!

Although you may not feel motivated to even get up - let alone book gallivanting adventurous trips around the country - it is so important that you make the most out of your experience abroad. Making plans, buying tourist guide books and maps - they are all easily achievable goals which could really help your mind-set. You could book regional day-trips, weekends away, or even go on a group-trip organised by a local tourist operator. The latter would be a great way to meet like-minded solo travellers who want to explore the country and local culture. Making plans gives you something to look forward to, and means that you are expanding your horizons.

3. Write a travel journal

Writing is not for everyone, but writing a travel journal is! You could write a journal of personal thoughts, ideas, plans, emotions, quotes, photos - the list is endless. Writing diary entries is an exceptionally therapeutic task. It means that you are acknowledging the high points, the low points and the turning points. You can look back on your travel journal and re-live your journey. Writing down how you feel can also really help pin-point the root cause of any emotional issues.

4. Do not compare on Social Media

Of course you will be using the likes of Facebook, Instagram etc. to stay in touch with friends and to essentially know what is going on at home. At the same time, it is so easy to get caught up in the newsfeed, and to then feel deep pangs of homesickness and possibly even jealousy. This constant scrolling of the newsfeed, especially when hundreds or even thousands of miles away, can make you feel like you are missing out on something, pretty much all the time. So why not log out of the social networking sites for a while? Turn off that laptop, put your shoes on, and go for a walk. Some fresh air away from a computer screen always does wonders. Walking around exploring also helps you get your bearing and later gives you a sense of familiarity. Equally, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have put online an excellent mental health leaflet, specifically for Brits abroad. This can be particularly valuable for those who are not in an English speaking location and do not wish to speak with friends/family about personal problems.

5. Take more photos than a professional photographer

Taking photos is a wonderful thing to do, because a photograph instantly captures a memory of someone or something, somewhere, at a particular point in time. It is an artistic hobby that can make you see something in a different light. Walking around with your camera means that you can take snaps of something which has caught your eye. And of course when you go back home, you can then look through your photos with fondness of the people and places that you got to know.

6. Do something social

Often a simple remedy to feeling lonely is to seek interaction with someone. Taking up a new hobby would greaten your chances in making friends who are on the same page as you. Joining a local sports team would enable you to socialise with locals and at the same time, release those happy hormones that we call endorphins. Alternatively, voluntary work would be an emotionally rewarding activity because that is the nature of working for a charity. In this way you would make friends with co-workers who are also passionate about supporting and caring for those in need. And lastly, taking part in a language course would mean interacting with people from around the globe, who may actually be feeling the same as you - a little lost.

7. Join a local support group

If you are finding it difficult to talk about your feelings to new friends, or even to old friends back home, it would really be worth looking into local support groups. These can be easily found on google, or can be recommended by your local doctor. This would be a really insightful place to get to know people who are ‘in the same boat’, or so to speak. In this way, confiding in others with similar mental health situations, would provide you with an understanding that you are not alone and that you have an additional support system.

8. Find a part-time job

Working abroad would enhance your language skills and social skills and perhaps most importantly it will provide you with the opportunity of interacting with locals and making friends with the people you would be working with. Not to mention, extra money to travel! You could even look into au-pairing, as this would give you an extra support system to rely on, and ultimately, you would be valued as part of another family.

9. Take your medication

If you do have a mental health illness, do make sure you have taken enough of your medication with you. It is so crucial that you take your medication regularly and that you see a doctor frequently, to monitor how you are feeling emotionally. If you feel like your emotional dips are getting worse, then speak to a doctor - they could always refer you for further treatment such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.

10. Treat yourself to something therapeutic

Much of feeling sad, lonely or anxious, involves elements of stress. Stress levels can however be reduced by doing something therapeutic. This could be yoga, retail therapy, or even treating yourself to a massage. Doing something therapeutic (simply doing the things you would normally do at home to wind down) greatly reduces feelings of stress and sadness. So treat yourself to whatever makes you more relaxed. Your emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical wellbeing.   


And lastly, it is highly recommended by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign, to take simple measures before going abroad, so that you can feel as happy and safe as possible when you are abroad. Taking on board these aforementioned tips; having the correct insurance; taking the correct medication; and seeking emotional support whilst abroad, will help provide you with a sense of emotional security when you are away from home. For more information on the FCO’s ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign relating to mental health issues abroad, visit this page.

For all of the latest foreign travel information, head to the FCO's Travel Advice website. Follow the FCO on Twitter @FCOtravel, watch their videos on YouTube and add them on Facebook to get instant access on all of the latest travel updates.

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