How Living Abroad Helped Me Deal With My Anxiety

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If you’ve ever lived with anxiety, you know that it is one of the most terrifying and taxing emotional disorders to endure. I am not talking about the normal test-taking or pre-presentation jitters, but rather the anxiety that is all-consuming: the one that paralyzes you and makes you feel as if you’re drowning and can’t come up for air. It is the one that reduces you to tears for seemingly almost no reason, and in a vicious cycle prevents you from fully enjoying life.

For years, I have struggled with this kind of anxiety, which I now realize many others have dealt with as well. I have always been a pretty anxious person – in high school I was extremely focused on grades and getting into a top university, so I often put tremendous pressure on myself to succeed.

It wasn’t until I came to college, however, that my somewhat tolerable bouts of unease became magnified exponentially. I worried about tests that were happening weeks out and laid awake for hours with my thoughts running wild about the future. Although freshman year was definitely difficult – learning to adapt to a new environment nearly 3,000 miles away from home and meeting new people – I chalked it up to the average first year experience. Little did I know that try as I might to push it into the background, this demon would increasingly come to haunt me throughout my college career.

The fall semester of my junior year, I hit an all-time low. The weeks leading up to my return to Boston, I felt an acute sense of dread creeping back in. I hated the way I felt when I was at school – extremely overwhelmed and, despite having friends, quite alone – and the thought of going back nearly paralyzed me with fear. I had come to not only despise the stresses of university life, but I ultimately came to associate Boston – the city of my university – with these terrible feelings.

I was silent for the whole six-hour flight. The minute we touched down in Boston I remained glued to my seat, hoping to take the same plane out to anywhere but here.

I adopted a huge course load of 21 credits and extracurricular activities as distractions from my intense anxiety. My stress levels increased dramatically, and I could barely enjoy leisurely pursuits because I harbored immense guilt when I wasn’t doing work. Sleep became a refuge from the real world. I felt as if there was no escape from my condition, and I wondered if I would ever truly be able to find happiness again.

One day, while I was walking to my particularly demanding journalism class (that I was in fact taking “for fun”), I remember calling my mom. The minute she answered the phone, I completely lost it. I almost wanted to laugh at how uncontrollable my emotions were and how ridiculous I must have looked shielding my tear-stained face down Commonwealth Avenue. I felt like Britney circa 2007 when she buzzed off all her hair and attempted to hide from the paparazzi.

My saving grace came in the form of one email. For as long as I can remember, I had planned to study abroad in London my second semester of junior year. I had completed the application during the summer and nervously awaited to hear my fate. After my breakdown on my way to class, I received a message congratulating me on being accepted into the program. It may just as well have said, “Everything is going to be okay.” I felt an enormous weight being lifted off my chest, and for the first time, I had something to look forward to.

Still, I worried that my intense anxiety would follow me there. With a gut-wrenching feeling, I contemplated, “Will I ever actually feel okay?” and “Is my anxiety a product of my own person or merely of my circumstances?” Although moving to London wasn’t without its challenges, I can honestly say that it by far exceeded my greatest expectations.

I know – that’s a big statement. But London gave me the perspective I desperately needed. Being so far removed from the typical school environment, I was able to immerse myself in a whole new way of life. The program emphasized experience over academics (and rightfully so; I mean come on we were in London!!), so the added burdens of the BU curriculum were absent. Simply put, everyone was there to enjoy – not only all that the city had to offer but THE TIME to truly relish life. You weren’t there to break your neck finishing that last paper, cooped up inside a study hall for hours. Since BU has always harbored such a competitive atmosphere, this was an extremely enlightening precedent for me.

During my time in London, I was able to explore and hone my passion for journalism by working at a large lifestyle magazine. Best of all, while interning in a country where the work culture is extremely more relaxed, I learned that work is NOT everything. Whenever people ask me what I liked most about the country, I always quote my wise British professor: “Brits work to live, while Americans live to work.” This statement is honestly so true. As employees in England get at least five weeks of paid vacation (THIS IS CRAZY RIGHT?!?), my coworkers were able to indulge in some well-deserved R&R. They loved what they did, but at that the end of the day, their job was just their job.

Earning a spot at a large magazine in London, while having been denied from a slew of other positions in Boston, also made me realize that getting rejected does not equate to a lack of talent, but simply means that things weren’t meant to be. My career path has not always gone exactly as planned, but I feel very blessed and passionate about the opportunities I have had thus far – even if I haven’t worked for the likes of Elle or Vogue. My London experience gave me the courage to continue following an often trying and competitive trajectory. And while it was the kind of work I had always dreamed of doing, it ironically (and unexpectedly) taught me that the key to happiness isn’t necessarily through landing your dream job.

Although my first few days back in the states were spent solemnly drinking tea and listening to Adele (because London will always have my heart), I have returned back to Boston with a new appreciation for life. I know there are lifestyles that exist in which I can find happiness. I have learned to go with the flow. I have learned to have more confidence in myself and stop comparing my own goals to what others are achieving. I have realized that I don’t actually despise the city that I had associated with so many negative feelings, but that my school experience was just not exactly what I had envisioned – and that’s okay.

I still get spells of anxiety (as this is something I know I will always battle), but I have come to accept them as a part of me instead of doing everything in my power to push them away. And now, my anxiety doesn’t control me, but I control it. Every time I feel it coming, I take a deep breath and tell myself that my circumstances are probably not as bad as they seem.

I don’t put so much pressure on things to happen exactly the way I want or expect them to – because the reality is that life is unpredictable. But I remind myself that there is always a silver lining and I have so, so much to be thankful for. It can be a tough world out there, but I know that my anxiety will no longer stop me from living my life. This realization has been my ultimate liberation.

2 Comments
  1. Thank you for being so open about what you’ve experienced!! It’s pretty empowering that that a change in circumstances can have such an effect on our perspective and general mental health. xx

  2. Wow.. Thank u for sharing about anxiety and how u overcomed it.. I have been having the same anxious feeling for the past few weeks and now i know i can defeat the anxiety.. I am moving to Australia in 2 months period for my postgraduate study and i hope i can control my anxiety… Feeling positive 🙂

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