Stress is your body’s response to physical, mental or emotional pressure. There are a lot of things that can cause stress in everyday life, including worries over study or work, conflict, and even external factors beyond our control. International students, in particular, go through a range of stressful situations, from facing cultural shock and having to take on new responsibilities to financial and academic concerns. Moreover, given that many have had to transition to online learning, the stress of adjusting has increased the prevalence of depression, anxiety and stress among some students.
When properly recognised, though, there are some easy ways to deal with stress. Different students have their own coping mechanisms to deal with stress. So, we spoke to three international students studying at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane about their experience with stress, effective techniques to manage stress, and their best self-care tips.
Meet the students
Jason Rumengan is from Indonesia, and is studying a Bachelor of Information Technology majoring in Information Systems. For Jason, one of the main concerns is that the privilege of being a full-fee paying international student comes with the pressure to perform exceptionally well.
“You have to maintain a good GPA, you are expected to volunteer and find opportunities to upskill, and work towards building an awesome CV,” says Jason.
Jorge Pardo is from Mexico and is a PhD candidate studying artificial intelligence and human-machine interaction. His studies and past work experience in the automotive industry brought him to Australia to explore innovative solutions related to autonomous vehicles (in other words, driverless cars).
For Jorge, the language barrier is the most overwhelming aspect of being an international student in Australia.
He says, “Sometimes I can’t explain an idea right off the bat. Also, after a long day of reading, writing, thinking and discussing, I feel that I can’t continue with my train of thought in English.”
Adarsh Verma is from India. He is currently completing a Master of Business specialising in International Business at QUT Business School. Although Adarsh chose Australia as his study destination so he could enjoy a change of pace, he reckons that adjusting to a new environment can be as stressful as it is exciting.
“I used to forget eating or drinking for hours on end when I had assessments due, and I know better now that I wasn’t doing the right thing. I have learned to give myself time to feel centred, relaxed, and take care of myself,” he says.
All three students mentioned mindfulness as their go-to stress buster. Adarsh says, “Whenever I am stressed, I take three long breaths because it helps calm me down.”
For Jorge, the little things make up his mindfulness practice: “Something as simple as walking helps me relax whenever I have a writer’s block or am stuck fixing bugs in my code. I also love ice cream, so treating myself to small joys like that helps me recharge to start afresh!”
Set aside some time each day for restorative activities and to rest and recharge. You can also improve your mood with music and use it as a tool to practise mindfulness.
Have a plan
Being organised helps you prepare for upcoming tasks and events. Jason says, “Have a plan, not to the extent of micromanaging everything, but try to have the bare essentials planned so you can avoid panicking.”
For example, go through the reading resources before a lecture, create to-do lists, use a calendar to schedule activities so you can visualise what your days entail, and make preparations accordingly. Make sure your plans and goals are realistic, and reward yourself when you achieve them!
Indulge in activities and exercise to counter stress
If you don’t tap into your emotions and only subject yourself to overworking, you can reach a stage of burnout and end up being low on energy and motivation. That’s why self-care is so important.
“Caring for ourselves enables us to maintain meaningful connections with other people,” Jorge says.
Ask yourself what you like doing to unwind and what brings you joy, and do that to de-stress. You could schedule a few hours during the week to pursue a hobby, go for a bushwalk, head to the beach or cook a nice meal.
“Do something you are passionate about outside of your studies,” Jason says. He likes to switch off by going for a run or hopping on a train and heading somewhere, either to the bay or up to the mountains.
Sports and exercise can also help improve physical and mental wellbeing. Jorge is looking forward to playing baseball with his mates in Brisbane next season.
“Exercising is a positive distraction,” he says. “I love going to the gym or playing a sport. Social sports are fun and not stressful because it’s not about winning, it’s about having a good time.”
Make meaningful connections
Maintaining a social network by joining clubs or societies and meeting like-minded people can help put things in perspective.
“Other international students who come here to study are probably going through similar situations as you,” says Adarsh. “Reach out to them and share the journey so you can support one another.”
Where to seek support to help with stress?
Talk to people you can trust
Reach out to a friend, family member or someone else you trust so you can talk about your feelings when you feel stressed. Sharing your thoughts and emotions can take a lot of weight off your shoulders, and you may end up seeing situations through a different lens based on someone’s opinion or advice.
“Don’t be shy and ask your family, friends, supervisors, lecturers and mentors regarding any concern that you might have,” says Jorge.
Seek support services
Counselling services and wellbeing support officers are available at most educational institutions to help with issues big and small. Check in with yourself, acknowledge the signs, and don’t hesitate to use the various mental health services in Australia. Remember that it’s always okay to ask for help.
If you’re a student with Medibank OSHC, you can also call the 24/7 Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283 at any time, day or night. Through the support line, you can access advice and over the phone counselling as part of your cover. An interpreter service is also available, so you can speak to someone in your own language.