On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Student life Daria Bella Matuznaia Mental Health

Mantal Health: How to Deal With Depression and Anxiety While Studying Abroad

As many international students often struggle with mental health crises, such as anxiety, depression, homesickness, and insomnia, it can affect not only their student experience but also academic performance. Therefore, it is critically important to identify these issues and act to reduce their negative effects on international students. What’s even better is to avoid them, by reducing stress. How? Find out in this article.
International students often grapple with managing depression and practising mindfulness to maintain their mental health. Science suggests that our genetic makeup is split evenly between our parents, but those who have studied abroad might argue that a portion of our identity is shaped by the survival skills we learn in foreign environments. These habits, acquired in response to our surroundings, can sometimes lead to feelings of losing one's true self, which may cause anxiety or an inability to relax. Although experiences vary, it's hard to find an international student who hasn't faced a mental health crisis at least once during their academic journey. Overcoming these challenges is a test of resilience, essential for advancing personal and professional success.
My educational journey was also a quest for inner harmony, marked by managing stress and establishing healthy lifestyle routines as coping strategies. The vulnerability of my first year studying abroad was daunting, as I navigated an unfamiliar environment. The contrast between my uncertainty and the seeming confidence of others was stark. With a packed schedule and limited time for sleep, I struggled with insomnia, which led to anxiety and a period of depression. Despite these challenges, I was determined to forge a lifestyle that would serve as a lifeline amidst the turmoil.
I realised that educational institutions often fell short in providing psychological support or university counselling services to alleviate students' burdens. The world doesn't pause for anyone, and highlighting the mental health crises faced by students, especially international ones, is a significant step toward addressing this issue. I will discuss the most common challenges that I and those I know encountered while pursuing education abroad, and briefly touch on the methods I used to overcome them.
Anxiety. Stress, a key factor in anxiety, often undermines productivity, quality of life, and the overall student experience. International students, in particular, are more susceptible to stress due to cultural differences and homesickness.
Consequently, to fight stress, we must learn how to balance the competing demands coming from external and internal factors. For me, the best way to find the necessary harmony and reduce stress is to start everything early. What I mean by that is to avoid working under stressful conditions of limited time.
As I left home, the first few assignments in my boarding school were hell on earth, full of restless nights, Redbull, and protein bars (highly unrecommended!). Finishing the assignment the last night before the deadline became a phobia, so now, I usually begin doing the necessary work at least two to three weeks before. Starting the work way ahead of the deadline not only allows you to grow confidence in what you're doing but also time for your other interests apart from studying.
Try not to limit life only by studies, cause it might make you feel like you are losing meaning in what you're doing. Find time for hobbies, which for me, for example, are art and sports.
Boxing and painting saved me countless nerve cells and fulfilled a spiritual need to create that every person starts having sooner or later. As long as you maintain a varied lifestyle full of intellectually stimulating and physical activities interesting to you, life will remain joyful and interesting.
Another factor that severely affects international students is homesickness. Moving abroad to study means leaving your already well-established life behind and starting a new chapter. Adapting to new realities and overcoming challenges can often make you feel like you want to give up on goals and go back to living a normal life back home. However, homesickness is a common thing, which can be overcome and should not majorly affect your future.
While leaving home, I had a thousand thoughts in my head about how to keep things home and where I was under control. At least in minimal control. Long-distance friendships and a relationship somehow had to be maintained. However, international students have to keep up with our priorities first! The significant people in your life will do the 90% effort if you can only give 10% due to the circumstances.
To overcome homesickness, staying busy and building social support are key. Establishing a routine can lead to academic success and a meaningful lifestyle. If persistent sadness affects your mental health, don't hesitate to seek professional help and maintain connections with home to reduce isolation.
However, it is important to remember that in case you're constantly feeling down and it critically affects your mental health, seek professional help and support from your loved ones. It is also important to maintain contact with home, such as organising video calls, so studying abroad will not feel like you're losing all major connections with those significant to you.
Feeling lonely and isolated is a common adjustment issue for international students, particularly during the initial months of studying in a new environment. Regardless of one's personality type, it takes time and effort to find the right social circle. To combat culture shock, it's crucial to engage with resources abroad, join clubs, attend events, and initiate conversations to expand your network and forge meaningful relationships.

Being far away from family and friends, experiencing culture shock, managing stress due to academic pressure, and misunderstandings with loved ones in long-distance communication are all quite real challenges. Therefore, adopting healthy lifestyle routines can be a significant step in navigating these difficulties.
Depression is also quite common among international students. Here, I think we need to work on a few factors to prevent depression, and they have to do with the places of education. Efficient services in schools and universities that give out the information to help international students navigate their way around and avoid unnecessary pressure is a must. Staff at the places of education should work towards their students to build connections with one another. Being left alone in a labyrinth of classes and auditoriums is scary, so guiding students, at least for the first short period, will greatly reduce pressure. Moreover, communication - sharing ideals and gaining experiences, is vital for preventing isolation, homesickness, anxiety, cultural shock, and as a result - depression. Approachable staff, pair work, and group assignments are the tools to lessen mental health problems in places of education!
What students themselves can do is prioritise self-care, putting their mental health above everything else. As a workaholic, it can be challenging to set aside work and rest, yet giving yourself time off when necessary is crucial for preventing anxiety and expressing emotions, which are principal parts of any successful work ethic.
Alternatively, there is nothing wrong with taking a mental health day in any place of education. Staying home for a day can significantly improve productivity and the general psychological state of individuals.
The other major issue among international students is insomnia. Frequently, due to academic pressure and stress, particularly during exam periods, the sleeping schedule is disturbed, which highly affects academic performance. I faced it myself. Falling asleep at 6 am and waking up at 8 am is known not to be healthy, but fixing the sleeping schedule might be extremely difficult. If that's the case for you, consider taking melatonin or some kind of light sleeping pills/supplements after consulting with a specialist.
Good sleep restores the body, helps to reduce stress, and improves concentration. Especially during the exam periods, try to keep up with sleeping for not less than six hours, as it is essential for well-functioning memory.
In summary, the mental health of international students is an issue that deserves our attention and discussion. Despite being a major challenge, it should not deter anyone from studying abroad. Anxiety, homesickness, depression, and insomnia are real concerns; however, by employing coping strategies and maintaining well-being through simple self-care rules, they can be mitigated. Avoid putting yourself under undue time pressure when working towards deadlines; engage in hobbies and interests, stay active, and ensure adequate sleep, especially during stressful periods. These practices will help prevent you from succumbing to poor mental health and keep you productive.
Nonetheless, if life feels uncontrollable and mental health doesn't improve, seeking professional help from a specialist at your educational institution or externally is advisable, as some issues are indeed better addressed by professionals.