Taking care of your mental health while studying abroad
IT Sligo student and our Canadian ambassador Colin Topliffe talks about the importance of taking care of your mental health while studying abroad.
Like most students, I’ve experienced times where I have been depressed and anxious. I’ve always been a strong advocate for mental health issues and I have even been certified as a Mental Health First Aider with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I’m not a professional in this field but I wanted to give some insight into my own experiences before I talk about this subject, so let’s get into it!
When you talk to others about studying abroad, one noticeable thing that really doesn’t come up was how this could impact your mental health. That’s why I decided to write about this topic — not to scare you but to help prepare you for some of the challenges you might face.
You must prepare yourself for leaving your support system behind. It’s not easy knowing your friends and family will be far away. That really hit me when I told my best friend Mariah about the decision to study in Ireland. It was a happy moment but the first thing she brought up was that it was going to be tough not being able hangout for so long.
Knowing that life is continuing back home as normal without you can be tough to process. I don’t mean that your friends and family are forgetting about you, but it can feel upsetting when you miss something back home. I was keeping my mental health in check for most of the first semester but my depression intensified when my first nephew was born. Now, I know what you might be thinking, “Colin, that’s a good thing, why are you upset about it?” I was so happy when he was born but the depression rolled in when it clicked that I was missing this amazing event with my family. It took a while to get back into things, but the key is to just keep going. Most likely you’re making the decision to come to Ireland to further yourself and your education — it helps to ground yourself in that fact.
Alright, so I’ve mentioned some things that you’ll have to think about but let’s get into some ways to help manage your mental health.
Do something you love
This might be a no brainer but whenever I’m feeling upset, I get up, grab my camera and head out. Sometimes I have no goal in sight but at least I’m out taking photos and enjoying it. For me every time I hit that shutter button, I feel at peace and it really grounds me and keeps my mind off things.
Don’t just lay in bed
It’s easy to just lay in bed and sometimes that’s what you need, but it’s not good for your overall mental health to stay there and get lost in negative thoughts. I find whenever I’m in bed for too long, I start to over think things. So, I go hangout with friends, do something I love or go for a walk to get me up and moving. Experts say that exercise helps combat mental health issues so even just going on a simple walk will help you feel a bit better.
Find your happy place
When I first got to Sligo, one of the first things I did was look for a place that helped me feel at peace. Near my house is a forest called Hazelwood and it’s now one of my favourite places. Being surrounded by nature, there are great spots for photography and it’s just a very peaceful place to escape to. Everyone who goes there is there for the same thing, to find that peace and quiet.
Find something new
I love finding new things to excite me. Since moving to Ireland I started baking as a hobby. I’m really starting to enjoy it. Also, I get to eat the baked goods after which is pretty great. When I’m feeling upset or bored, I can turn to baking to keep me level headed and distracted.
Travel and see the world
One of the best things about studying in Ireland is just how close to everything in Europe you are! The second I finished my exams I jumped on a plane and explored Amsterdam. I also spent my birthday in Barcelona touring the city and enjoying the warmth of the sun. If you’re feeling down and have some free time, why not book a trip somewhere? You will have something to work towards and look forward to! It helps to know that you’re going to be somewhere new and exciting in a few weeks.
I hope that these tips have been helpful and your time spent studying in Ireland is rewarding. The most important thing is to never forget that you’re doing this for you and in the future you’re going to look back on this experience with a smile on your face.