How To Manage Depression And/Or Anxiety Abroad

I know, I already did a post about getting sick in Spain. Might as well cover the other half of illness. You know, the annoying kind. The kind that doesn’t go away just by waiting it out a week.

I’m talking about mental illnesses, of course, and man, they are the worst kind to have at the best of times. The best in times in question being going abroad. And that was a beautiful segue, wasn’t it?

According to my therapist, I have anxiety and depression — the lovely power couple that’s set to take over the world some day. My case is relatively mild, as I’m able to manage it with over-the-counter HTP vitamins, and everyone’s experience with those mental illnesses is different. However, there’s a few things anyone travelling with anxiety or depression should know.

 

DO talk to your therapist/doctor before you leave. This is so important that my school actually required me to do it before they’d let me leave the country. Although you might be pretty sure you’ve got it under control, you want to have the opinion of a trusted professional as well. In addition to knowing whether or not you’re stable enough to travel, a doctor or a therapist might know useful tidbits about the country you’re travelling to. For example, whether or not they carry any medication you might need. Which brings me to…

DO your research. I actually did not do this one because I am a bad potato, but also because my case is pretty mild. If you are going to need prescription medication while you are abroad, make sure you know whether or not you’re going to be able to get it from a foreign hospital. Some medications that are common in the US are not legal in other countries, and vice versa.

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DO bring all the medicine you will need in your carry-on bag. This is for any type of prescription medication, not just medicine related to mental illness. You might also want to bring a doctor’s note, and make sure you check the official TSA guidelines.

DO take the new time zone into account when it comes to taking any regular medication. You might think you’re taking it on time, but really you’re six hours off. This can be jarring to say the least.

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DON’T hide from people. This is a big one for me, because when I’m having a bad day, the last thing I want to do is go socialize with a bunch of strangers. Unfortunately, that’s a big part of the study abroad experience. If you’re not feeling the big group thing, see if a few people want to go hang out at a cafe or something. Or if it’s part of a guided tour, just hang out at the back of the group with the person you’re most comfortable with, and admire the architecture or the landscape or whatever it is that you came out to see.

DON’T let your space become a mess. I’m talking about hotel rooms, the bedroom your host family gives you, your dorm, your apartment, etc. If you’re already feeling down, a mess only makes it worse. And don’t give me that “but I’m just a messy person!” excuse. That’s my excuse, good sir, and I claim it as my own. This morning, I made myself clean off my desk because it was covered in junk, and you know what happened? I got the inspiration to write this post. You’re welcome, internet.

DON’T push yourself extremely far out of your comfort zone. This is one tricky. Veeery tricky. The whole point of going abroad is to get out of your comfort zone, isn’t it? Well, yes, but if you’re like me, you might find it hard to find the line between discomfort and actual fear. Because…a lot of discomfort presents itself as actual fear to me. The thing is, when your brain is sounding the alarm bells, whatever you’re about to do might actually be a bad idea. And if what you’re thinking of doing feels like it’s going to trigger a panic attack…don’t do it. It’s fine to miss out on cliff diving or bar hopping if those activities feel unsafe to you.

However, there is a fine line here, because stuff like talking to strangers in a foreign language can also feel like it might trigger a panic attack. Heck, talking to strangers in English is scary enough by itself. Unfortunately, there’s no denying that this is a very important part of the abroad experience, especially if you’re trying to master the language of the country you’re in. In that case…

DON’T travel alone. It’s so much easier to navigate a strange place when you’re not the only person making a total idiot of yourself. Take a friend with you. Order tapas together. Have the waiters give you condescending looks when you don’t know how to order a drink in Spanish. What would be humiliating by yourself becomes hilarious when you’re with equally clueless friends. It’s a good time.

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DON’T hide your mental illness. Speaking of friends, once you’ve made some good ones, don’t be afraid to let them know what you’re dealing with. If they’re good friends, they won’t back away. You might even find out that they understand what you’re going through. (There’s a lot of people out there with anxiety and depression, my friends.) It will also help them be more understanding if you need to back out of a beach trip or a night on the town. Which brings me to the last point…

DO remember to take care of yourself. You’re abroad, so you’re gonna want to push yourself to see everything there is to see. You’re gonna want to get out of your comfort zone, make new friends, and if you’re anything like me, be way more socially active than you were before. All this is good. However, there will be days when you just need time for yourself. That’s fine. It’s more important to take things slowly so you can enjoy the trip in the long run, than to go go go until you burn yourself out.

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That’s my list, although it’s by no means exhaustive. Do you have any other tips about travelling with anxiety or depression? (Please tell me. I need help.)

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Getting SICK in Spain – What You Need to Know

What the heck, Faith. It hasn’t even been a week and you’re doing a post about getting SICK? Now is not the time! You’re supposed to be making friends and learning Spanish and PARTYING or whatever!

Yeah? Well…tell that to my immune system, will ya?

Hi guys. Yes, I was hardly in Spain for three days before sickness struck. A sore throat, to be exact. Or, as they call it here, dolor de garganta.

The sickness itself wasn’t so bad. It was the fact that I was in Toledo, that I didn’t know how to express my pain to a Spanish nurse, and the fear of spending part of my first week in the hospital. Thankfully, our group leaders were able to help me out quite a bit. If it hadn’t been for them there would have been much more panicking involved in this process. And much more pain, because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have gone to the pharmacy at all. Because, you know. Avoidance.

So what do you do if you get sick abroad? Well…

 

Step 1: DO NOT DENY IT. I was all set to do this, but thankfully my group leaders stopped me. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t gotten some medicine, my sore throat would have gotten worse and I would have had to spend several hours in the Spanish ER. Not my idea of a good time.

If you are part of a travel group, TELL YOUR LEADERS YOUR SYMPTOMS. This was invaluable to me because I didn’t end up having to speak any Spanish at the pharmacy at all. I told my leaders what I was feeling, and they translated for me. Nifty, huh?

If no one in your group speaks fluent Spanish, I still wouldn’t recommend going alone. Take the best Spanish-speaker in your group and a friend for moral support, grab that pocket dictionary (don’t rely on WiFi), and taxi your way on down there.

Hopefully you’re not totally on your own (because that’s never smart when you’re in a strange environment), but if you are, most likely the workers at the pharmacy will do their best to help you. Use your dictionary, bring any medication you’re currently taking, and try your best. Again, it’s really not recommended to go alone. When you’re feeling miserable, the last thing you want to do is navigate medical terms in a foreign language.

 

Step 2: ACTUALLY TAKE THE MEDICINE. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you buy medicine…take it. Unless it looks obviously shady — which it shouldn’t if you got it from a clearly marked pharmacy — it’s safe. I don’t think any over-the-counter drug can be very dangerous, unless you have an allergy to something, which the pharmacists will ask you about before they give you anything. If you’re really paranoid, Google the ingredients to make sure.

If you need to take the medicine at regularly scheduled intervals and you suck at remembering that (like me), set a timer. There’s no point in going through the hassle of getting to a pharmacy and communicating what you need if you’re not going to follow through with that.

 

Step 3: REST. Or should I say, descansa. Your friends may be going out to party. Maybe you were planning on going ziplining, or skiing, or hiking. Maybe you had a walking tour all planned out. As much as it sucks to stay put when you’re abroad, you have to rest if you want to recover quickly. Stay at the hotel and get someone to bring you food if possible. Or be like me and skip dinner entirely in favor of a brownie you forgot to eat on the plane. (Okay, maybe that’s not the best option. But going out may not be advisable either, depending on how sick you feel.)

 

Step 4: SLEEP. Sleep is hard to get when you’re running from city to city, and jet lag makes it even worse. (Suffice it to say, lack of sleep is probably why you got sick in the first place.) Once you’ve taken your medicine, do your best to get as much sleep as possible. The best medicine in the world isn’t going to make up for lack of rest and sleep, trust me. There’s no magic pill that makes you all better so you can keep exploring. Or if there is…find it and patent it. I will pay you. You’ll be rich. Do it.

 

Aaaand…

Step 5: IF YOU’RE REALLY SICK…GO TO THE HOSPITAL. I don’t have experience with this step, thankfully, because my symptoms greatly improved after taking medicine, resting, and sleeping. However, my leaders had told me that if I hadn’t improved by the time we got to Granada, they would take me to the hospital. So thank God I avoided that curveball.

Hopefully, you worked out international insurance before leaving for your trip. If you’re travelling with a study abroad program, like I am, they might have put something together for you. Check your e-mails, files, and any other resource they sent you. It’s there for a reason.

 

That’s my travel advice for today. Hopefully, you’ll never need it. But if you do…hey, I went through this before you. As did thousands of other people. So chillax. It’ll work out fine.

(Unless of course it doesn’t, but your anxiety has already thought of that, so I’m trying to stay positive here.)

 

Stay crazy, friends!