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Maintaining good mental health abroad

Jun. 18, 2018
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It’s no secret that living abroad has become a lot more attractive among today’s younger crowd. In 2017, the Culture Trip website commented that there are over 232 million expats living around the world and that two out of every five people who move abroad are millennials. I can include myself in that statistic. At the end of last summer, I packed my bags, endured a lengthy visa process, and left good ol’ Alabama for a life in sunny Barcelona, Spain. For the most part, living in Spain has been everything that anyone could imagine about living in another country. I’ve been exposed to a new culture and language. The rest of Europe is only a short plane or train ride away—not to mention that travel is so much cheaper here and overall, life in Spain is a whole lot more laid-back than it is in the U.S. It’s hard for me to complain when there have been so many positive aspects to moving abroad, but I’ll be honest, living in another country can also be a challenge—specifically, a mental one. While there have been many things that I’ve enjoyed about living abroad, I have also struggled with my mental health. There are times when I feel extremely down and hate Spain more than I love it. My first few months in my new country were a disaster. I cried at the end of almost every week, my mood was an unending rollercoaster, and the constant feeling of loneliness made me question why I was still living in Barcelona. There’s no doubt that part of what I was experiencing was culture shock, but even after nearly six months of being here I still have bad days. I’ve come to realize just how important it is to make my mental health a priority and want to offer some advice on maintaining good mental health while living abroad.  

Seek Professional Help

The first piece of advice that I want to offer is to seek professional help if you can. I know that having a therapist might be a little out of the budget—it’s definitely out of mine—but shop around. There might be services available in your area that are reasonably priced. Seeing someone who is qualified to help with mental health issues is the best bet especially if your feelings of stress, sadness, or anxiety are lasting longer than you would like. Don’t wait. Seek help as soon as you can. Most psychologists suggest that seeking help early on is better than waiting until things are at their worst. 

Also, throw away any stigma attached to going to therapy. It’s okay to ask for help. I was a sophomore in college the first time I went to therapy, and it helped me so much that I’ve recommended it to almost everyone I know. 

Make Some Friends

One of the best parts about living abroad is meeting people from all over the world. Try to make friends as soon as you move to your new country. It’ll give you people to talk to and if they too are expats, people to whom you can relate. Start by joining a local Facebook group full of other expats. I’m in several groups myself, and they have proven to be very useful when I’m craving things from the U.S. Apps like Meetup and InterNations also make it easy to meet people who share your interests, and if you want to learn a new language with your new friends, there are plenty of language exchange apps, too. Some of the apps that I use include HelloTalk and Bilingua. Both apps are free and allow you to talk to people within your community and from other parts of the world. Regardless of what you choose, do your best to make the most of your time meeting new people. Some of the most enriching friendships are the ones made abroad. 

Be Selfish

Be selfish! Moving to a different country and adapting to a new environment takes a lot of time and energy. You’re going to need lots of time to process such a big change, and that’s okay. Treat yourself. I don’t necessarily mean with retail therapy but with things that will benefit your body, mind, and spirit. Try something new. Start meditating or doing yoga. I’ve reinstalled the Calm app since moving abroad, and it has done wonders for me. Spending time with yourself can be just as important as making new friends. A healthy mind and body begin with self-care. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to stay in while your expat friends are out living it up at the club. Your new life abroad is not only an exciting time to meet new people and make new friends. It’s also a great time for self-reflection and personal growth. 


My last piece of advice for maintaining a healthy mentality abroad is to breathe. Be kind to yourself, and be patient. Moving to a new country is no easy task. Those of us who have done it have all gone through our fair share of ups and downs. While living abroad may be challenging, it is a special experience that not everyone has the privilege of enjoying. Don’t take your time abroad for granted. Make the most of it and in the meantime, make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Reflect on why you decided to move in the first place and in doing so, you might rediscover your reasons to stay.