Mind Your Head : How to Look After Your Mental Health Whilst Studying Abroad

Polly Penter London, England


January 23, 2020

As you become settled in your new home, get used to your schedule and find the novelty of living in a new city is starting to wear off, we’re approaching the time of term when culture shock and homesickness can start to bite. A few of you might find you’re getting sick, having been exposed to lots of lovely new germs! You might be feeling run down after the excitement of running around trying to do as many things as possible in your first couple of weeks. Little things like unfamiliar food, seeing on social media what friends are doing back home, and navigating the underground network can make it feel as though the world is conspiring against you, and this can make you feel tired and stressed.

We all have mental health, in just the same way as we all have physical health. And in the same way as we sometimes catch a cold, or become really unwell, our mental health is not always as great as we’d like it to be. It’s important we are aware of - and look after - our mental health, and keep an eye on those around us, especially when we find ourselves in a new and potentially stressful situation. Studying abroad is an amazing, exciting experience, but it can sometimes be difficult too. Below are a few tips to help you - you might find some are more useful than others, because we are all different!

Look after yourself 

Looking after your body will help you look after your mind. Try to eat healthily and do some exercise. You might not be someone who wants to go to the gym every day, but studies have shown that even short periods of walking are good for mental health, and London is a GREAT city for walking. You could explore some of our wonderful parks or visit one of London’s markets

Don’t try to do everything! 

It’s impossible! I’ve lived here for 20 years, and still have a list of things I’d like to do in London and places I’d like to visit in Europe. Pick the things you want to do and then don’t regret missing out on the things that didn’t make the list.

Do nothing! 

Everybody needs time to recharge, so don’t be afraid to relax sometimes. You don’t have to fill every second of every day - if you want to sit in your pajamas and watch Netflix there will be days when that is EXACTLY what you should be doing.

Know your limits

It’s tempting to sometimes push ourselves to do something that just isn’t good for us. For example, I get horribly motion sick on just about anything that moves, and nothing on this earth would ever entice me onto a roller-coaster. It’s the same with mental health - if something scares you or makes you uncomfortable, or you know it’s going to make you feel bad, then you don’t have to do it because of peer pressure or because you think you should be challenging yourself! It’s fine to say no to things and respect what your body and mind are telling you. 

Reach out

Arcadia is an incredibly supportive place. If you need help, or if you’re not feeling right (even if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong), let someone know. We can help you to access any support you might need. As we said at Orientation, part of being independent is learning when you need to be dependent. It’s impossible for us to cope on our own all of the time, and also unnecessary when there is help available.

Be mindful of your medication 

If you take medication for a mental health condition, don’t play around with your dose unless you do so under medical supervision! Similarly, if you think your dose might need adjusting, or you think you’d benefit from medication, contact ISOS so they can book you in for a consultation to discuss this. 

Don’t forget you have a support network

Don’t forget about your support networks at home - we are the most connected we have ever been, and it’s easy to get in touch with family and friends overseas if you need additional support. Similarly, it’s natural to feel homesick and miss family and friends - that’s called being human. However, if you’re so homesick that it’s taking over your life and ruining your experience, let someone know and we will do our best to help.

Be prepared to be unprepared

A lot of us like to be in control, and it can make us anxious if we feel things are out of our hands. However, when you’re studying abroad a lot of things will be new and different - it’s inevitable that things will happen that make you feel unprepared. Don’t worry! This is all part of the experience, and you can’t possibly know and be ready for everything all of the time.

It’s OK to not be OK

If you’re feeling down, don’t get mad at yourself. A lot of people believe they should be feeling a certain way, or beat themselves up if they’re not enjoying things as much as they expected. That’s called being human - nobody feels completely contented all of the time. So, be kind to yourself, don’t set unrealistic expectations of yourself, and, as has been mentioned above - REACH OUT if you need help.

Some helpful links: 





All of these charities run helplines, most of which are 24-hour, so if you are ever feeling in need of support you can easily speak to a professional who will help you through it. 

I hope you have a wonderful semester.