Living Abroad with Anxiety: 5 Practical Tips & Solutions
Who says that people coping with Generalized Anxiety can't also travel freely, and live abroad? There seems to be a common misconception that if you're "anxious" you're holed up in some corner biting your nails and crying hysterically. There are tons of people who have moved abroad because of their anxiety and / or in spite of their anxiety. I am one of those people, and unless I told you, you probably wouldn't be able to tell. That's the catch-22 of mental and emotional illnesses: what people can't see, they tend to discount or minimize.
At this point, it's quite common knowledge that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I've written about my specific concerns as an expat with anxiety here, if you're interested. That said, this article is here to not speak about the causes of anxiety, but give tangible solutions and recommendations. Although there seems to be this stigma surrounding anxiety that we are unable to function, let alone move to a new country, that simply is not the case. That said, our anxiety may shift, lessen or heighten depending on how we choose to live in the new environment.
"Hey! Want to go for a drink?" "No! I'm meeting my therapist!" No one wants to be that person, especially when you're abroad for a short time, but please, be that person. One of the first things you should do before moving abroad is look for a therapist who ideally speaks your native language. Moving is stressful for most people, let alone someone suffereing from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Find a therapist, get recommendations from others, ask your therapist from home if they know anyone where you'll be based. You don't want to take two steps forward only to go 4 steps backwards. Not fully comfortable meeting a new person, try online therapy or apps!
When I first moved abroad, I was nervous about finding a flat. I had nightmares of arriving with no "plan" and spending weeks in some shoddy hostel because I couldn't find a flat that I liked. As a result, I booked an apartment before I moved and that helped ease my anxiety. Since I was on a graduate dstudent's budget, I found myself sharing a flat with 7 other girls. That means 7 different personalities. 3 other languages. And only 3 bathrooms.
If you know that having your own personal space--having your own safe haven-- is important to your mental health then budget for just that. Although having Spanish roommates has its benefits, you must factor in that after a long day of classes, or work in a foreign country, home should be a place where you feel safe, comfortable and relaxed. If your budget won't allow for you to live alone, try just one other roommate first, and screen them beforehand.
We're human, and it's natural to want to be liked. When you move abroad, and you're new and getting settled in, you'll be tempted to make as many friends as possible. Sisterhood while abroad is an amazing comfort that everyone should experience. Alternatively, keep in mind that not everyone you meet abroad is meant to be a friend, or a best friend, let alone a sister-friend! Filter. Curate. Moderate. Be as meticulous about who you share energy with as you are about your twist-out. I've let many a friend go because their energy and their vibe left me feeling drained and anxious. You'll make friends, but more importantly if you're honest with yourself about what it is you expect and want, you'll make the right friends.
If you're like most people, you'll probably spend more time at work than you will at home. Your co-workers, bosses and general work environment can cause your anxiety to behave in ways that it wouldn't normally especially when you add in factors like language barriers, cultural differences and simply startingover in a new company. Do your best to integrate. Ask questions, be present, be engaged, but do not stay in a place that makes you feel unhappy.
I've quit jobs in Spain because I would frown on my way there, and cry on the way home. I've quit jobs when I saw that the conditions were subpar, and the compensation was even lower. Of course, I was terrified of not finding a new place of employment, but that's never been the case. If you're going to spend 8-9 hours in a place around people you cannot stand, doing a job that doesn't make you feel fulfilled, you may as well be miserable at home, right? What's the point of taking hold of your story and moving abroad if you plan on settling into old habits that hurt you?
Welcome to the world of low-cost airlines! Ryanair, Vueling, EasyJet, oh my! Yes, that 55€ roundtrip flight to Paris looks tempting, but with low-cost airlines also comesextra stress. If you know that traveling makes you feel a bit wound up, then maybe spending a few euros more to fly with a major airline is the best idea. Ryanair attracts a certain crowd. No shade, I was once a frequent Ryanair flyer! I know the type well: backpackers, students and millennials looking for cheap flights; frugal and nervous, older Spanish people, and lots and lots of tourists. These are the people who line up 1-2 hours before take-off even though there are assigned seats. These are the people who push, and shove for overhead space and sit just close enough to make you feel trapped. Life changed when I stopped flying with Ryanair. Not worrying about if my bag would fit their peculiar requirements.
In summation, check in with yourself. Know yourself well. Then adjust accordingly. Anxious traveler? Book ahead and splurge where you can to save stress. Need peace and quiet in your home space, then plan (financially too) to live alone! Work causing you more stress than it's worth? Quit, and make no apologies.
Only you can shape your mental. No one else knows what's going on in your head, and the only person that loses when you put on a brave face while suffering on the inside is you. Whether you're in Spain France, South Africa or Taiwan one thing remains true: you cannot give to others in any capacity if your well is dry, or your cup is empty. It's not selfish to pour into yourself by any means necessary.
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.