What It's Like Living Abroad with Anxiety
Living with anxiety isn't easy under most circumstances, let alone while living in a foreign country. If you think that you can create a laundry list of hypotheticals and concerns in the house you were born and raised in, in a city you know like the back of your hand, around people you've known all your life, imagine throwing in a Barney bag of craziness and unpredictability into the mix. It's literally nuts. Why is this topic worth discussing? Besides the fact that General Anxiety disorder is a real, mental illness, most people wrongly assume that if you're "living in paradise" that you have no reason to be anxious.
They couldn't be more wrong. Anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with your zip code, and everything to do with your genetics, your brain's chemical compound, your surroundings, and past experiences. In summation: you can be anxious on a plane, you can be anxious at the Louvre, you can be anxious while sun bathing in Chang Mai, you can be anxious while having a relaxing cup of café con leche en la Plaza Mayor. Anxiety is not location dependent.
I have anxiety, and not in the Spanish sense of "Está nerviosa". No, like real, anxiety. Living abroad, however tasty the wine and however cheap the baguettes, can be extremely challenging. It doesn't matter that there are something like 300 days of sunshine a year in this stunning country. Life still happens.
What do people worry about?
Not fitting in or Standing out too much
No one wants to feel like it's all eyes on them, unless you're killing it in a breakdance circle. It's easy to let your mind wander to crazy, even dark places when you feel perpetually put on the spot. Some days, you just feel like pulling a Homer Simpson and fading into the bushes, you know? You don't want to have to be strong, or explain / justify your being in a new country, you don't want to be new or exotic or the shiny novelty.
Speaking from experience, and living in a country with 25% unemployment rate, job stability is a big worry of mine. For some reason, I'm able to momentarily convince myself that Esperanto is the language of the future, and all this English teaching thing will be so 2016!
If you think FOMO (fear of missing out) magically disappears just because you get to stroll down cobblestone streets and eat cheese, you're mistaken. Yes, cheese in Europe is good AF, but anxiety gives no cares. You wonder if the path you've chosen is the right one when you see friends from college earning six-figures and working on Wall Street. Should I have a mortgage? Has everyone but me paid off their student loans? You miss your family, and friends. Will they notice (or care) that I missed the 10-year reunion? Will my baby cousins recognize me when (read: if) I decide to come home?
It's not easy. But there are things that help.
How to cope?
Here are a few things that have been working for my anxiety:
Like real friends who will listen, without judging, and be available and present when you need them. I'm so thankful for my Husband and my closest friends spread out between Murcia, Taiwan, DC and Chicago. Ya'll are everything.
Once you accept that you have anxiety, you can start to treat it accordingly. True, it may feel like you've got some pulsating, hideous blemish on the tip of your nose at first, but be real: you know it's there. Those closest to you probably know it's there. Time to address the pimple in the room. There's no shame in asking for help.
I find that power yoga helps me feel both strong and relaxed. I feel empowered instead of helpless, and it's good for my overall health. When I'm left in silence for too long, I can start to spiral and next thing you know, I'm convinced that the sound in the bathroom is probably some furry UFO sent to destabilize the EU. Maybe not to that extent, but you get the idea.
Apps on Apps on Apps
Say it loud: I'm Millennial (and Black) and Proud! I use apps to help with my anxiety. I use Sworkit to get in timely workouts when I need to sweat or a distraction. I use Calm app for moments of meditation. I use Noizio for some ambient music when I can't sleep. I also really enjoy mood tracking with Pacifica app and there's a great feature for mindfullness moments and deep breathing. I'm currently trying out a Gratitude app, so stay tuned for thoughts.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world today. And that's understandable! Guys, bats are falling out of trees in New South Wales because it's too damn hot, over 400 whales just washed up on shore in New Zealand, we've got a reality TV star who also happens to be a compulsive liar and a Cheetoh leading the "free world" and hundreds of years later, Native Americans still have to remind people just whose house they're in. Ish is crazy right now!
Just in case you need a reminder: your feelings are valid. It's okay to feel anxious, and you don't have to go at it alone!
Danni, Community + Content Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful husband. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.