Before I talk about my experience dealing with anxiety while studying abroad, I should add this disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional of any kind. I am just a college student who has been diagnosed with anxiety. I am writing about my own experiences and how I cope with my triggers. Also, people with mental health conditions react to different situations differently and have different ways of coping. While I hope that this entry will be helpful to someone, anyone with a physical, mental, or emotional condition should consult with a licensed medical practitioner before making the decision to study abroad. .
I would think that anyone living with anxiety, of any kind, knows just how hard it is to do things that should be “normal everyday activities.” For me, being in crowded places, going to new places, or talking to new people can be difficult. Now just imagine being in a foreign country and that feeling being amplified by one hundred. It's a pretty daunting thought, I know, just thinking about it used to give me anxiety. However, I am very glad that I did not let my anxiety hold me back from coming to Japan.
Coming here is a huge change, something that sounded incredibly scary for me, but Tokyo is one of the most amazing places in the entire world, in my opinion. There were challenges everyday for me, but having anxiety just seemed to make those challenges even harder. My biggest fear in coming here was the massive train system. I was terrified of just how crazy the maps seemed to look, and how getting on a wrong train could take you somewhere you have never been. It was a terrifying thought. But, once I got here and started to understand the train system, it is actually pretty easy to use in my opinion. The stations were a little confusing at first, but I have never seen such a complex system set up in such an easy manner. I have gotten lost quite a few times, of course. But the more I rode the trains, the easier it got to navigate the city. Within just a couple weeks I had almost all of my lines and platform numbers memorized.
Another main anxiety of mine in coming here was getting lost and not being able to get to where I needed. Before coming here I had 4 years of Japanese, so asking for directions and getting help wasn't too big of a fear. But just the anxiety of getting lost in a place as massive as Tokyo was daunting. Thankfully, whenever I do get lost, when I ask for help people are more than glad to help me. I don’t even have to use difficult Japanese; simple phrases like “where is this train going?” and “where is this?” have worked fine. The Japanese people I spoke to always pointed me in the right direction, or even reminded me which stop was mine when we were on the same train.
I know I said that I have anxiety about talking to people, so yes, asking for help from random strangers is scary, but at the same time I feel much more relieved when I’m able to find out where I’m going.
For me, the best way to deal with anxiety is to find ways to ground myself when I encounter “triggers.” For example, trains still make me anxious, but what helps me is listening to music and tuning out the world around me while I am on them. However, I have to be careful to know when my stop is! Another way I deal with my anxiety is traveling with people on the trains to different places. Going with friends is much more fun than going alone! With the anxiety of getting lost, the easiest way I have found to battle this, is to always carry a map with the train lines that I need to take. That might seem like a hassle, but they are always in my backpack just in case I can’t communicate what I need.
The ways in which I deal with my anxieties will be different than yours, so the methods that I use might not work for you at all, but for me, listening to music and having the train maps with me makes me feel calmer. While that might not be your thing, the important thing to do is to find what helps you battle your anxieties and try to make sure you can have those things/do those things when you start feeling anxious.