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Studying Abroad – Managing Anxiety


There are many things while studying abroad that can trigger anxiety. Everything is different; the food, the culture, your peer group, how you communicate with family and indeed less contact with family and friends. These things individually can be anxiety provoking so all together they can become quite overwhelming.

Do you recognise yourself in many of these statements?

I avoid certain situations because I am afraid I might have a panic attack

I worry about the same things over and over again

I often feel overwhelmed

My nervousness, worry or anxiety has stopped me from doing things I would like to do

I worry about my symptoms and/or how I feel a lot

I worry and feel afraid a lot

I find myself worrying about my anxiety a lot

I generally feel I am losing my mind and then become afraid that I might be

I have trouble with sleep (can’t fall asleep, wake early and can’t go back to sleep, can’t sleep at all, wake up numerous times)

How to manage 

The key is to engage with and put into practice those things that have helped you manage your anxiety before you moved abroad to study. What coping mechanisms have you/do you use? Do you practice yoga or mindfulness? Does praying help? Do you own an item that brings you comfort? The aim is to identify those things that helped ease your anxiety or made you feel calm at home and to continue them while you are abroad, especially if these methods are tried and tested. As things are not the same here it is important to see how you can transfer your coping mechanisms for the duration of your time abroad.

Another resource is an excellent website with loads of FREE resources called Finding Peace in a Frantic World

On top of the mindfulness techniques that you can have in your tool kit to help manage your anxiety, it can sometimes be useful to ask yourself a few questions to help calm yourself down. What you are trying to do here is challenge the anxiety provoking thoughts by questioning their reality and potentiality.

a) Is the fear I am feeling based in reality?

With anxiety we tend to create the worst case scenarios in our head. The chances is that the answer is NO if we ask if our fear is based in reality or if there is any proof for this fear?

b) What evidence do I have to support this issue?

It can often be the case that we worry about that something bad/embarrassing is going to happen and that you will then be ridiculed by everyone. These worry’s can often be based on ‘What you think or What you feel’ and not necessarily in reality. It can be helpful to ask yourself “what evidence do I have to support this worry?” Is my worry based on fact or what I think might happen?

c) What is the middle ground?

Many people who suffer with anxiety jump straight to the ‘worst case scenario’ and in reality this hardly ever happens. It can help to train yourself to think about the worst case, the best case and then the most realistic case scenario, with more energy being put into the ‘most realistic’ scenario. This on the ‘most realistic’ case can help in bringing your anxiety down.

d) Am I worrying just to worry?

Worrying can become habitual so much so that it becomes our default. Think about what you are worrying about and ask it is happening right now or is it based purely in what MIGHT happen for example worrying my partner ‘might’ break up with me or I ‘might’ get sick. Try to stay with things that are ‘actually’ happening.

e) Ask yourself ‘Am I Safe?’

Take a look around you and take in all of the information. Notice if you are sitting at home, or sitting safely in the library at college or out with people who care about you. Be informed of how safe feel where you are and let that calm you. Take in your reality.

f) What piece are you creating?

At a mindfulness workshop recently we were told of the difference (from a mindfulness perspective) between ‘pain and suffering’. The pain is the reality of what one is feeling in that moment, whether that is fear or worry, the suffering is what one does in ones mind that fuels these emotions. So we bring ourselves into that moment where we acknowledge the feeling of worry, fear or anxiety but we do not judge it, fight it, analyse it, try to understand why, no, we just sit with it and notice it. We do not increase the suffering by creating a narrative around it, we let it be. As we become more adept at letting it be the less it will overwhelm us and in turn the less we suffer.

Also, City Counselling have counsellors that specialise in working with students suffering with Anxiety (and many other issues) and they can offer a confidential and safe space to discuss your experiences freely

Contact Anne Devlin on