Upon setting foot on German soil, all of the preparation for the trip left my head. Nearly three years of German Language study was for naught; I couldn’t bring myself to order a simple coffee auf Deutsch. I couldn’t even find the bus stop, even with the help of pictographs. I stood in the middle of the airport (nearly deserted at 6 a.m.), confused, and, in a panic, realized I was further from home than I had ever been.
Most would say that this was normal and to be expected. Most would say that it was culture shock and is experienced by everyone who travels. Most would say to muscle through it and to get to where I needed to be.
Most haven’t been recently diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and depression and aren’t two days into a new medication.
For those like me, even trivial things can bring about a world of panic and distress. So, one cannot imagine the anxiety stemming from being half a world away from everything they know. One is never more alone when one is stuck in their own head, and being in a new place doesn’t help. The most simple way to fix it is to get out.
1. Get Out of the Country
At home, I was having trouble sleeping. My bed was uncomfortable. I was dealing with social issues and anxieties. Classes had me down. I was behind on papers. Behind on studying. Behind on everything.
Leaving the country, all of that was suddenly thousands of miles away. I could do what ever I wanted, and not have to worry about things that were, in the most literal sense, far out of my reach.
One of the best things about traveling is not only getting to see new places, but getting to leave the old places behind. Through travel, one can escape sources of anxiety that have become part of daily life and surroundings. A change in scenery can provide new experiences that distract you from old hangups and anxieties. As Jimmy Buffett says: “Changes in latitude, changes in attitude.”
2. Get Out and Meet People
Now, this tip may sound a bit odd, coming from a person with social anxiety, but it can do a person a world of good.
Our first month here was spent in a German immersion course through the International Deutsch als Fremdsprache (InterDaF) program offered by the Universität Leipzig. Through this program, I have met many new people, both my fellow contributors to this blog from Mizzou and others, coming from everywhere from Kansas (relax, they were K State, so I won’t hold living in Kansas against them) to Pennsylvania and Chile to Hong Kong. While I still had trepidations, meeting these new people who had all come to Germany for the same purpose, learning German, provided a nice social support group. We had all had very similar experiences, troubles, and worries getting to Leipzig, and being able to share in them helped to alleviate them. Make some friends, and you won’t be quite as alone as I was at the airport.
3. Get Out of Your Head
It can be terrifyingly easy to get to a new country, and then immediately retreat to your new bedroom and withdraw into your head from the overstimulation of your new daily life. That was me for the first several days. I even put off getting food for the first two days, just because I didn’t want to venture out (an aside: A bratwurst has never tasted so good as it did after I finally dragged myself out of my room).
You may be missing home. You may be overwhelmed by new experiences and need to decompress by yourself. You may be exhausted by jet lag and have no will to deal with all the new stuff. And that’s okay. You’ll have time for that. Just don’t do it every day. Don’t have a trip that all you remember is four walls and a computer screen while life goes on around you.
On the plus side, jet lag is a fantastic cure for insomnia! Sixteen hours on a plane followed by an entire day of getting to your bed sets you up for a nice long sleep that can help reset things.
Optional: Consider Medicine
Now, I’m no doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice. However, if your anxiety goes beyond the usual trepidations of everyday life, consider talking to your doctor about something to take the edge off your fears. While I was still terribly confused and anxious on my first day, my mood has steadily improved while I’m here by both a combination of all three methods above, and my little happy pill, escitalopram. While I can’t attribute all of my success in controlling the fears to it, the medicine has helped dull the edge of anxiety and helped me feel normal again.
I wrote this blog after seeing all of my fellow contributors write about their first-day anxieties, and I wanted to try and help other people deal with anxiety exacerbated by travel. Now, I realize that since everybody experiences anxiety differently, my tips may not work for everyone, but I hope at least one person will be able to alleviate their woes by using this blog. Now, for less of a downer and more about how great it is in Germany, here’s a write-up of my experiences with antiquity, “Steeped in History.”