Being able to study abroad in a new environment is an exciting opportunity for any student. You can fully immerse yourself in a new culture and learn things that you would never be able to pick up from a book.
However, while studying internationally can be fun and exciting, it can also create some mental and physical health concerns if you don’t address them right away (ideally before you set foot on the plane!).
Some of the biggest issues international students face are not getting enough sleep, dealing with extra stress, and improper nutrition. The workload and expectations of school combined with a new environment can wreak havoc on your mind and body if you don’t take proactive steps to manage your well-being.
Unfortunately, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can fall into a vicious cycle. By not getting enough sleep, you’ll increase your stress levels. Increased stress can lead to unhealthy eating habits and make it harder to sleep.
So, what can you do? How can you get ahead of the stress-nutrition-sleep cycle and enjoy your time abroad to the fullest?
As a student, you might think stress is just a normal part of life. While a little bit of stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, too much can impact your well-being in a variety of ways. It can contribute to:
- Mental health issues
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
When combined with a lack of nutrition and not enough sleep, too much stress can also cause skin problems, including psoriasis and eczema.
Stress doesn’t just take a toll on your health. It can contribute to a negative cycle that causes your sleep to suffer. It can already be difficult for international students to maintain a healthy sleep schedule when they’re in a new time zone. Stress only makes it worse. The more “anxious” you are when you try to sleep each night, the harder it will be to get the sleep you need. You might also start to reach for foods that provide comfort or start to eat out of boredom, which can throw off your well-being even further.
So, what can you do to manage stress?
First, don’t devote your entire life to studying. It’s important, but you’re in a new country – take advantage of that! Dive into a new hobby, take part in extracurricular activities, and think positively about your unique experience. By finding small ways to de-stress each day, you’ll make better, healthier choices in other areas of your life.
There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding students and unhealthy eating habits. Hopefully, if you’re studying in a place like Italy or France, you’re not going to be microwaving ramen noodles on a nightly basis. However, you can still throw a wrench in your nutrition by indulging in pizza and pasta every day. While you should absolutely try the incredible creations each country is known for (we’re looking at you, French pastries!), it’s important to maintain healthy eating habits while studying abroad.
The old saying, “you are what you eat” rings true in many ways.
Maintaining a healthy diet can help to give you energy, improve your physical health, and have a profound impact on your mental well-being. Stress tends to impact your nutrition, causing you to reach for comfort foods or overeat too often. Studies have shown that diets rich in whole foods are associated with less depression, stress, and anxiety.
Eating poorly can also make it harder to get adequate sleep. Not only can a lack of nutrients lead to sleep problems, but eating something acidic, high in sugar, or high in fat can also make it difficult to get to sleep. Again, that contributes to the vicious cycle, creating even bigger problems for your time abroad.
You don’t have to restrict yourself completely when it comes to your diet in another country. Have fun and enjoy regional cuisine. However, make sure you’re practicing mindful eating, rather than reaching for something when you’re stressed or bored. The more mindful you are of each bite, the more you’ll appreciate it.
Getting Enough Sleep
We’ve touched briefly on how sleep plays into the stress and nutrition cycle, but how are they all connected? Sleep and stress are extremely interwoven. The less sleep you get, the more stressed you’re likely to feel. The more stressed you are, the less sleep you’ll get.
While reducing your stress levels is important, it’s just as essential to form healthy sleep habits and even to develop a nighttime routine. Students are, once again, stereotyped when it comes to getting enough sleep. You don’t need to fall into those stereotypes and stay up all night. Instead, practice positive sleep hygiene by:
- Going to sleep at the same time each night
- Waking up at the same time each morning
- Stopping the use of digital devices an hour before bed
- Not drinking alcohol or caffeine several hours before bed
- Setting up an ideal sleep environment
From sleeping and eating to finding ways to de-stress, getting ahead of this harmful cycle is crucial when you’re studying abroad. Taking charge of your health and fitness now will benefit you later in life, especially when you’re starting to search for a career. You’ll have a greater ability to concentrate and you’ll know how to navigate your surroundings. Start putting these suggestions into practice now, and you’ll be able to better enjoy your international experience, as well as a brighter future.
Huge thanks to Frankie Wallace for this guest post. Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing about education, personal development, and technology. Frankie spends her free time cultivating her zero waste garden or off hiking in the mountains of the PNW with her loved ones.