When you apply to go on Erasmus, no one asks you if you have any type of mental disability that might impede you from enjoying the experience to the fullest. You might even ignore the fact that you are medicated or that you have anxiety and go anyway because you’ve always heard that going abroad broadens your horizons. The question is, does it also cure your depression?
I did this. I jumped on an airplane and found myself thousands of kilometers away from my friends and family, away from my safety net, alone in a new country, a brand new city, completely unknown and begging to be discovered. The first couple of weeks were so easy: I rebranded myself, created a brand-new version of myself that no one had ever known before. This was fairly easy, but of course, that’s when depression hits, it hits hard. Here are my tips to survive Erasmus while struggling with mental health:
1. Make sure you take all of your medication with you
This might sound ridiculous or obvious, but when you’re planning to go on Erasmus, you tend to forget that, in the case you are medicated, you will need to have a 6-month to one year supply. It might sound like too much and you might have to carry around a small pharmacy with you on the airplane, but if you need it to survive or to make yourself less anxious, then don’t neglect going to the doctor beforehand and explain that you are going abroad for a while. Your medication might be more expensive in the country you are going to or it might be more difficult to get it, so prepare ahead of time.
2. Explore techniques like meditation or mindfulness
Finding a new therapist that doesn’t speak your language and only manages broken English might not be the most attractive idea. Try meditation. Yes, it does sound stupid but it works. It’s great to calm yourself down and to bring your focus back to you, the physical you. Get your head out of the stormy clouds and sit down, straighten your back and breathe in, breathe out. Feel the air going through your lungs, your body moving to the rhythm of your breathing, your hands on your lap. When you’re having a bad day, mindfulness is a great habit to have.
3. Get distracted
But what about when you are having a panic attack, or you physically can’t do anything? Get distracted for a while. Remember that this is all normal, it’s fine, you’re not going to die. Mindlessly watch some Netflix, try to read a book or play a game. Distractions are good to get you to calm down, they shift your subconscious’ focus to something that isn’t you. And if it doesn’t work, you can always call someone. Someone you trust back home, a loved one, a friend or even a parent. Even if you're apart, they are always there to listen. If you crave human interaction, hey, call your brand-new Erasmus friends to hang out. They will understand and maybe even drag you out of bed. Talk to someone, be with someone. Shift the focus to something else.
4. Keep track of a journal
Remember: even if you don’t know how your body or your mind reacts to a different environment, to a different lifestyle, take everything you already know into consideration. Never forget that the human being is ever-growing, including you. Depressed, anxious, you can do this. Be mindful and keep track of how you react to different things and how your body reacts to a different routine or the lack of it. A way to do this is keeping a journal. Write down a little bit every day or every week how you’re feeling, what you did, what changed. It helps, trust me. I did this when I was feeling really low and it kept me going straight up to my highs. Erasmus can help you learn about new cultures, yes, but it can also help you to know more about the most important thing in the world: yourself.
5. Don’t forget your family and friends back home
Being in a brand new environment can easily make you forget that you came from somewhere and that there are people that love you and care about you. It doesn’t hurt to call your parents or video call your friends every now and then. Keeping in touch is extremely hard, especially when you don’t know how to or when you don’t want to worry them, but you can’t just tell them you are alive through Instagram posts. This is also a raincheck on your brain that life is not just right now, that there is more than this moment, good or bad.
Taking care of your mental health during Erasmus is tricky, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I did it. You can do it, too! Good luck!