5 Ways to Deal with Stress and Anxiety on a Year Abroad | La Vita Nuova | Year Abroad Adventures

Thursday, 2 November 2017

5 Ways to Deal with Stress and Anxiety on a Year Abroad

Stress and anxiety are a part of all our lives, whether we like it or not. I've suffered from both myself in my first couple of months of living in Venice, whether it's a result of university work, the Italian bureaucracy, or simply the struggle of suddenly having to juggle a double life.

I got quite a shock when I realised that due to lectures every weekday on my Venice timetable (plus 30-40 minute journeys there and back either on foot or by vaporetto), and more homework than expected, there isn't much time to fit in my translation project for Cambridge and even less free time for anything else! To make matters worse, dealing with any sort of administration in Italy is a major hassle – good luck getting anything sorted out within a week! It's one of those situations where you have to just accept the things you can't change, but it is unfortunate. My Erasmus paperwork has been a special kind of nightmare recently, with signatures going back and forth and sending emails to everyone in the hope of not missing my deadlines... With all this going on, my year abroad sometimes feels like the furthest thing from "the best year of my life" that so many people expect it to be.

Luckily, I don't experience those sorts of feelings every day, and I have a lot of good days where I realise just how lucky I am to be able to live in Venice for a whole year! I'd argue that stress never quite goes away, but there are ways to manage it, even when it feels like home (and your support network) is a million miles away!

Apart from the normal stress relievers like eating well (which is never as easy as it seems for a student), exercise, and getting plenty of sleep, here are five other way to cope that work for me:

1) Plan your workload (daily, if possible)!

Some planning from inside my Hobonichi Cousin
When it feels like you're about to be snowed under by an overwhelming amount of work, deadlines and responsibilities, sitting down and planning out exactly what needs to be done (and when) can really calm you down. I know I have a lot of days where I manage to paralyse myself with fear by thinking about how much stuff I need to do when I get home. You can use a paper planner, an online calendar, or even just a plain notebook – the idea is to spend a few minutes setting your priorities straight and scheduling your various tasks sensibly.

Everyone has their own style when it comes to planning, of course, so do whatever is most comfortable and makes most sense to you! For example, colour-coding helps me immensely, and I like to divide tasks between various classes, social things and general life stuff. I'm also a bit of a crazy planner person, so I love paper planners and stationery. If you also use a paper planner (or even just want to plan your days with a blank notebook) I'd really recommend trying the bullet journal system if you haven't already, as it's super flexible! I actually use a version of it in my Hobonichi Cousin, so I'll definitely do a proper write-up about it at some point.

You might also want to draw out a weekly chart or a timeline of events for every day – I usually use a daily timeline to block off any lectures or social events that I know are happening, so I can schedule everything else I need to do around that! I also make sure to make a note of any deadlines that are coming up, so I know exactly what needs to be done first and what can wait until later. It can be very helpful to get into an evening routine of planning for the next day too. Ultimately, if you make a plan of action that suits you (and stick to it!), it should help you avoid feeling so overwhelmed.

2) Talk to other students (especially other internationals)

Some of my fellow Erasmus students (from our recent Trieste trip)
One of the key things that helped me put my Erasmus stress into perspective was talking to my roommate about it. While I was worrying about my own deadlines, she mentioned that (being from a country outside of the EU) she would soon have to go to the police and apply for a renewal of her residence permit for Italy. To me, that sounded a lot more stressful, and I counted myself lucky!

Talking to other people in a similar position to you certainly helps, because the reality is that you're usually not alone in your troubles. If you're doing a year abroad at a university with an ESN (Erasmus Student Network) branch, use it! I've been incredibly lucky that ESN Venezia runs so many events that help you meet other international students and take part in exciting activities together. However, if you don't have a resource like that available, I'd recommend taking up a sport or joining some sort of club – you might find some international students there to share your experiences with, or if not, you could still make some friends with students in your host country. You could also keep in touch with anyone else from your university who is doing a year abroad, either via a Facebook/WhatsApp group or simply sending them a message from time to time.

It takes a bit of pushing yourself sometimes, but it really is worth putting yourself out there and finding new friends to support you while you're away from home. Equally, your friends from home will still be very happy to hear from you if you ever want to chat!

3) Go for a walk

One of many Venetian streets I discovered on a walk!
If I start going a bit stir-crazy after a whole day of working in my room, going out for a walk (even just a short one down to the supermarket) really helps me to clear my head and put things into perspective. My theory is that seeing the rest of the world going on outside makes me realise that the small things I'm worrying about don't really matter so much. 😊

You can go grab some milk from the shop down the road or take a longer route round to that landmark you haven't had a chance to check out yet – it is ultimately up to you and what will make you feel best. In this downtime, you could discover a cute, quiet place to relax, or an interesting little street... any number of things. If you head towards a more central area of your city, you might run into someone you already know, too!

It might seem like you've got no time to spare, but if you do make some time to get out of your own thoughts, you might just feel a lot better for it.

4) Set aside some time for a hobby

Skullgirls (2012)
Some people are perfectly happy with a busy, work-hard-play-hard kind of lifestyle. I'm personally a bit of an introvert, so going to a lot of fun social events on top of lectures can tire me out and leave me wondering when I'll get a day to myself. For better or worse, those are pretty rare! So, it can be a good idea to set aside a little bit of time for something more chill.

I usually use this time as an end-of-the-day reward once I get the day's work done. Depending on when I finish, I'll take anything between 30 mins to a couple of hours before bed to watch some TV/YouTube, play a video game, write for the blog (woah, meta)... Anything goes! The important thing is to chill out and take some time for yourself in amongst all the chaos that is a year abroad. The reason I do this in the evening is because I know I'm easily distracted from my work, so if you're similar this is an effective way of getting around it. But if you can comfortably take an hour out and get straight back into the groove, go for it!

(And, when you do get that rare day to yourself, enjoy it!)

5) Call home (or if you're close enough, visit!)

Magdalene Bridge, Cambridge, UK
It seems an obvious point, but it is amazing how talking to family or friends for a little while can lift the weight off your shoulders. I've certainly had days where I've felt really down, and then brightened up after a sudden call from my mum or my boyfriend. The people closest to you are usually those who will be most understanding towards any difficulties you're having, and they'll be there for you when you need a bit of emotional support. Once again, this is a way to put seemingly stressful things into perspective – talking it through with someone who will listen can help you think more clearly about how to proceed, and you can get advice too!

Although not everyone on a year abroad is fortunate enough to be able to go home often, for me Italy is close enough to England that I can (I live very close to Stansted airport). It's sometimes hard not to feel like you're cheating and that you should stick it out for the whole year, but there's no shame in coming home for a few days to regroup. It also gives you a great chance to catch up with your friends and loved ones, and reassure yourself that you really aren't all alone in the world (despite how it feels sometimes)!

In the end, I think the key to dealing with stress and anxiety well is consistently trying to uphold a few good habits like these. (I'm not always good at this myself, but I try my best!) Remember that it's okay for things to not be perfect all the time, or even most of the time – the most important thing is to take care of yourself so you can keep going even when things are difficult. And, if you've got any super useful tips on how you manage your stress, I'd love to hear them! 😊

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