In light of my last post about the effects of mental illness while studying abroad, which I admit was not exactly uplifting, I want to offer the second half of the same narrative--how does one recover from bouts of depression/anxiety/etc. while in a foreign country? Enter self care, a practice I find absolutely essential for my wellbeing and recommend for everyone, no matter the state of your health.
Self care is exactly what you'd think it is: taking care of yourself, physically, mentally, and emotionally. A self-explanatory term, but easier said than done. As college students, we are inundated with academic tasks, extracurricular activities, resume-building, jobs, and what have you, with little time to focus on ourselves--and on top of that, we chose to study abroad. In a beautiful new country, we must try to balance work, play, and simply understanding a foreign city and culture. I, for one, had no idea how difficult that endeavor would be. What I'm trying to say, is that it is easy to place oneself low on the list of priorities, when we should be at the top.
There are as many possibilities for self care as one's imagination can conjure, and what works for one person might be completely wrong for another. It's all about what feels the most comforting, and that could change depending on the day. For me, self care typically includes spending time alone, at home or out in public, a long hot shower, something relaxing to do, and probably chocolate (definitely chocolate). Someone else might prefer going for a run, and another might enjoy meditation. The options really are endless.
Whatever self care routine works for you, study abroad will probably complicate it. There are places to go, things to see! Why would you turn your attention toward yourself? Well, there are a lot of reasons. I've found that I can't enjoy Vienna or anything in it if I am overly stressed, tired, or emotionally drained. I think, as students abroad, there is a pressure to be constantly out and on the move, to fill ourselves up with experiences until our memories hit maximum capacity. Where this pressure originates, I can't say, but doing things just for the sake of doing them makes little sense to me. If spending one night at home taking care of myself means I might enjoy the next day, then I will make the trade.
It's true that self care is harder to fit in to my schedule while abroad, especially being without the usual comforts and routines of home. What has worked best so far is to literally schedule time for self care—I make a date with myself. Fridays evenings, for example, are reserved for pizza and Netflix, and I will not go to sleep before taking a few minutes to wash my face and apply some pretty-smelling lotion. Even a step as small as removing your makeup is enough to refresh your thoughts and care for yourself in a gentle way.
I don't think I could have spent this long abroad without making a point to take care of myself, even when it took place of going to a museum, or cafe, or just out somewhere. There is no shame in that. But what is truly great about self care, besides its general benefits, is that it is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and it doesn't cost a thing.
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<p>Kelsie is a junior at Skidmore College, double majoring English and music. Her academic interests include creative nonfiction, piano performance, German language, and feminist theory. When she isn't in class or at the library, Kelsie spends her time playing piano, writing personal essays, knitting, or just curling up with a good book and a few cats. While studying in Vienna, Kelsie hopes to improve her German and piano skills, as well as immerse herself in Viennese culture.</p>