Caring for your Mental Health while Interning Abroad

Dan Elias Bliss

 

This May marks the 70th anniversary of mental health awareness month. This year’s theme expands on #4mind4body. Humor, work-life balance, and how they relate to mental health are a few of the topics explored this year.

Since the early 90s, there has been a steady increase in young people reporting problems with mental health. Generation Z has been more open and willing to talk about their struggles with mental health. However, over 60 percent of young people report having an overwhelming sense of anxiety.

While traveling is exhilarating and life-changing, it can also exacerbate mental health issues. We want to provide all our interns with the proper knowledge and information they need to ensure mental well-being before, after, and during their program.

Mental health and traveling

Man in Glen Coe Scotland

Certain aspects of travel can take a toll on your mental health, and it’s important to recognize all these factors. Research shows most people experience some form of anxiety while traveling. Unfamiliar surroundings, lack of sleep, and being lonely can all affect your mental health. Knowing when each one of these factors can start to affect you and how to handle them is the way to stay mentally fit while abroad.

Before you go

Talk to your doctor

Before heading abroad, you’ll want to discuss any medical and mental health conditions with your doctor. A properly trained medical professional will best be able to tell you how your mental health could be affected by traveling, especially abroad, and the best steps to take for treatment.

You’ll also want to discuss any medications you take and how a time zone change could affect your medication schedule. For most, it may be a gradual change while getting used to a new time zone, but a doctor can determine a schedule that works best for you.

Make sure you have enough medication for the duration of your program and any travel you plan on doing afterwards. There is no guarantee you will be able to get more of your medication in a foreign country, and the last thing you want to happen is to run out. Getting a supply that will last the length of your travels is usually as simple as talking to your doctor and insurance company.

Research where you’re going

To prevent feeling overwhelmed, research as much as you can about your host city before you go. There are plenty of great resources, including the Global Experiences’ blog that can teach you almost everything you need to know about your host city.

The more you know about social norms and culture, the less isolated you’ll feel and the quicker you’ll feel like you belong. Dive into learning about the places around your host city you can go and relax. Every minute of an international internship shouldn’t be fast-paced and intense. There will be those moments where you want to slow down and take a minute to yourself.

Girl in London Visiting Buckingham Palace

Parks, a charming café, a quiet space are all great places to go and reset. Research a few of these places before you go and understand where they are in relation to your work and home. Having a basic understanding of your host city can ease a large part of the culture shock all world travelers feel when arriving somewhere new.

Managing mental health while abroad

Don’t stray from your medication

While abroad, don’t stray from your medication. With all the new adventures and excitement of being in a new country, it can be easy to start ignoring your medication or not taking it at the proper times.

However, the single best thing you can do for your health while abroad is regularly taking your medication. Follow the dosage and schedule your doctor prescribed to you. The first step to staying healthy is to take your medication.  

How to not feel lonely

Being lonely is the part of travel most of us don’t like to talk about, but we all experience. Being in a new country and culture can feel isolating. It doesn’t take long to start missing your friends and family, and soon enough you’re thinking more about home than you are the world directly around you. However, there are plenty of ways to get over and avoid those feelings of loneliness.

Dublin interns visiting the Cliffs of MoherBefore even leaving for your internship, schedule Skype calls with your friends and family. Don’t call every day, but once a week or even biweekly would work best. Everyone back home will want to hear about your internship and travels.

Your fellow interns are in nearly the exact situation you’re in – experiencing culture shock, homesickness, and adjusting to a new professional experience. That’s why your fellow interns are one of your greatest resources. Become friends with your fellow interns and experience the world around you together.

There are plenty of online resources to help you connect with locals and expats in your host city. Facebook is full of expat groups that you can join to talk with others and even meet up for events. Meetup.com is a great place to find events in your host city, including mental health support groups.

Listen to yourself

There is still a stigma around mental health, but the truth is it’s okay not to be okay. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or lonely. Being abroad, these feelings are normal, and most travelers will feel them at some point. The important thing is that you realize how you’re feeling and listen to yourself.

If you feel being abroad is taking a toll on your mental health, reach out and talk to someone. Your fellow interns, the Global Experiences staff, and your friends and family are all there to listen to your concerns and help you work through what you’re feeling. If that doesn’t work, there is always the option to seek professional help and counseling.

Girl looking at Sydney skyline

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your mental health is to be alone. If you need a minute to yourself, go to the parks and quiet places you researched. There is nothing selfish about taking yourself out of a stressful situation to have a moment for yourself.

Find a specific coping mechanism

There isn’t a one size fits all coping mechanism. Everyone has a different way to reset and recharge. Before interning abroad, you may have already discovered your coping mechanism.

It could be a favorite book, type of music, or activity. Take your coping mechanism with you when you go abroad. Having the small sense of familiarity and relief can make a big difference.   

Stay healthy

Amongst all the adventure of travel, it can be easy to not make the greatest decisions regarding healthy eating. No matter where you go, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating regular meals and drinking enough water.

Grabbing the cheapest or most convenient item is an easy trap to fall into, but rarely the healthiest. Strike a balance between the new foods you have to try and the healthy options. Proper nutrition is critical to staying both physically and mentally healthy.

Girl riding bike in Barcelona

Alcohol is often a part of any travel experience. While we understand many of our interns will drink, we always encourage them to do so carefully. It’s important you know your limit and not try to exceed it. 

Alcohol in excess can not only be dangerous to your mental health but also your overall safety. You might enjoy a glass of wine or bottle of beer from time-to-time, but make sure to do so in moderation.

Avoid using any illegal substances and drugs during your internship. There’s always the chance that what you take could be combined with something else and do serious damage to your health. Many countries have a zero tolerance on drug use that could land you in serious trouble. Drug use could also get you kicked out of the program.

When you get home

After you’ve returned home mental health symptoms may not show up for weeks. Make sure to contact a doctor or mental health professional expert as soon as you feel you need help. Discuss any and all medications, your recent travels, and other relevant information.

The Global Experiences staff including our Location Coordinators are there for you every step of the way. If at any time during your program you need someone to talk to or feel you need help we are here for you. We wanted to make your international internship the experience of a lifetime.    

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