Dealing with stress
It is easy to cope with stress. Here is how.
When you are studying overseas, it is normal to feel a little stressed or homesick once in a while. It is common for international students to feel anxious when coping with a completely new lifestyle, academic demands and financial difficulties, pressures of balancing work, study commitments and relationship issues. Sometimes, you might feel you need a bit of extra help – and that is alright.
A research conducted by Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer identifies that international students are at a higher risk of facing stress due to the extra challenges faced by them while living abroad.
With that in mind – let us discuss stress and how to cope with it!
Common stressors faced by international students
In the research conducted by Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer in Australia, international students were interviewed about the most common transitional stresses they faced whilst adjusting to life in their new study home and many of these apply to all study destinations:
Culture shock and off-campus living pressures
Upon arrival, international students face ‘culture shock’ and a string of new responsibilities – including navigating language barriers, searching for accommodation, finding housemates, paying rent, learning to manage a household – not to mention studying!
Students also have initial worries about English language barriers when making friends, voicing opinions during group assignments and/or utilising professional healthcare services (due to fears about miscommunication).
Financial and academic pressures
In addition to the financial pressures of budgeting and handling household finances, international students must adjust to unfamiliar academic environments, study styles, and course-structures. Some students – especially those receiving financial support from home – reported feeling intense pressures to succeed or achieve academically whilst studying abroad. Students who reported feeling their academic work was ‘below expectation’ experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression (Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer), resulting in poorer academic performance.
Some students may experience homesickness a few days after arriving at their new home and for others, it may take a few weeks. After all, moving from a familiar environment to a completely new place can seem quite challenging. Feeling homesick is common and may involve experiencing:
- Low mood
- Feeling unmotivated
- Feeling you don't belong
- Generally feeling unwell
- Pre-occupation with thoughts of home
- Nothing feeling familiar
- Feeling like your new life does not meet your expectations
- Feeling alone and lonely
If you identify with any of these stressors, here’s how you can deal with effectively.
1. Stay socially connected in your host country
Build your local support network or swap stories with other international students sharing similar experiences. You will also be able to find a lot of students from Malaysia and nearby countries studying in and around your city, you can catch up with them. Use social networking sites/apps to find international student groups or people in your city who share similar hobbies.
2. Reach out to friends, family and/or personal support networks
Talk to someone close and trusted. Try:
- Scheduling weekly/monthly Skype sessions with family or friends
- Travelling and sending postcards back home
- Writing emails or letters
- Switching off social media for a while
- Joining student communities
- Keeping a busy schedule
- Meeting new people
- Be open to new experiences
- Travel and explore with new friends
3. Exercise regularly, eat healthily and look after yourself
Poor eating habits and sleep deprivation is also known to trigger stress. So, eat nutritious meals and rest well. Try cooking your meals at home instead of eating out often or binging on takeaway food. Exercise improves both physical and mental health. Ensure that you stay active by going for a walk/run, swim or working out in the gym. Meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises can also help you stay calm and composed.
4. Get to know your new city
Make an effort to get to know your new surroundings and what is happening in your host city. Familiarising yourself will help you feel more connected and less like an outsider. If you were involved in a club/church/group back home, then find out what your new neighbourhood has to offer.
Research a little about where you are living and find a few places you should explore –- the best coffee shops in the city, favourite locations for local street artists or all the different places you can go hiking. Make a list of these places or activities and challenge yourself to do/see all of them before you leave.
5. Get a pet
Studies have shown how spending time with a pet can significantly uplift your mood and lower your stress levels. Having a pet around makes your body release happy hormones and keeps you positive. If your university or landlord does not allow you to keep one, you can go and spend time with domestic students who have one.
6. Talk to others about how you are feeling
There is no shame in being homesick. It happens to almost everyone. Seek help from a professional if you feel the need for additional support to work through your stress. A range of individuals and organisations provide support for people experiencing mental health concerns. You could also reach out to your university’s student support centre that often has specialists like counsellors and advisers who can help you manage stress.
7. Vent and express your feelings
If you are too shy to express your feeling with anyone, start keeping a journal and vent it all out. You may write poems, stories or even indulge in art forms such as painting to express yourself creatively.