Dealing with Anxiety Abroad

I figured if I share my own personal experiences dealing with anxiety while living abroad, it will encourage somebody out there who stumbles onto my humble area to do the same.IMG_20130328_091002Panic Attack 01: I’m crossing the road when a sense of dread comes over me. I feel my heart beating faster and faster. My knees weakening. People passing all around me. My ears ringing. I see the bus and for a split second I imagine myself stepping right in front of it. My thoughts are irrational. I know this. It’s not that I want to commit suicide. I do want to live. I become so overwhelmed where I will be seeing myself in the third person not realizing this is really me. I’m really here. I pinch myself. I take a deep breath. Sometimes it works while other times I rush back home. Sometimes, though, I don’t have that luxury to return home so I hold my breath till I return to my studio apartment and I simply throw up. The entire day I felt like a fish on land.

Panic Attack 02: I’m standing on the platform waiting for the train. I’m restless. I know either somebody is going to push me or I accidentally fall onto the tracks. I’m breathing heavily. I’m shaking something awful. Once I step in the train just as the doors open, I collapse onto the seat (if I can get a seat).

Panic Attack 03: I’m sitting in the cab heading towards the airport. Did I leave my Resident card (I have one for Taiwan)? Did I leave my passport? Will they even accept it? I either keep checking my pockets nonstop or look into my purse thinking the outcome might change. My phone? Where is my phone? I’m tired. I’m terribly tired. I will probably get on the wrong plane. Will I even find the gate? I’m not dizzy due to car sickness but rather my mind is spinning like a tornado in the scenes of the Wizard of Oz.

It’s one thing when I get a panic attack at home but when it happens on foreign land – it gets quite scary especially when I first arrived in Shanghai and not knowing what’s around me only adds on to the anxiety. How I do I learn to cope? I try to look around to find something that calms me, concentrate on it and think “happy” thoughts. During one of my panic attacks, I saw this cute dog and I immediately stopped to simply breathe and smile. It may seem strange but looking at the cute dog was therapeutic and it helped me to march on to embrace the rest of the day.

2014-11-28-21-11-35_decoOne time I had an anxiety attack waiting for the train in Taipei and when I stepped inside, I saw these cute illustrations on the floor. I looked at it and smiled. Everything will be okay and you know what? Everything worked out in the end.

Another thing that helps me with my panic attacks is writing down my worries. It takes a lot more energy to write them down than to think them. It does help me calm down and get rid of my irrational thoughts. Sometimes Dawen and I even doodle on my notebook to distract me from my fears. I don’t know how it went from a popular Frozen’s song to a drawing of a guy about to drop his hand grenade. Maybe he shouldn’t, um, let it go. Either that, or it could be a metaphor of me letting go of my irrational thoughts. Yes, let’s go with that shall we?

CAM04887Having a healthier lifestyle does help with my anxiety – daily exercise routine, staying away from fried foods, getting enough sleep, etc. I try to stay away from coffee when I feel anxiety because it’ll only make it worse. At least, for me. I don’t know about anybody else?

Just because I am content with my life, it doesn’t mean I’m drinking Martinis overlooking the view of the Bund without a care in a world. Having said that, I refuse to let it get the best of me or have it as an excuse to give up. I’ve learned to be at peace with my anxiety.


    1. It means a lot that you’re reading my posts. 🙂 I’m inspired by bloggers such as yourselves every single day!

      “Sending much cat love from Thailand.”
      Yay. You get me. 😀 Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s great to see you are still writing a blog! Thank you for writing about your experiences. I seriously relate to it all and have been through the same. I never looked up what others thought in this situation and it is comforting in a way I am not alone with these irrational thoughts.

    My episodes mostly happened while in Canada so I can only imagine how scary it must be for you while being out of the country.

    Weirdly enough, I have been able to pinpoint one of my causes: eating too much/eating when not hungry. I noticed many of my attacks would happen at home after being back from having eaten a big meal my mother-in-law prepared or having gone to the restaurant with friends in a different city. I am learning not eat as much as I did in the beginning and just say ‘no’ – despite my husband and his parents who keep pushing me to eat more.

    The other cause is plain anxiety; not knowing what will happen next and just being worried about everything. This is why I love your drawing and the meaning behind it – despite the grenade (I think it’s hilarious in its own way)! We really need to learn how to let it go!

    If this helps, when I find myself in this state of mind, I try to stop, sit somewhere, close my eyes, take deep breaths, and tell myself “everything will be alright” and just keep repeating it until it passes. If I am at home, I wrap myself in a blanket or put on warm clothes to sweat it off until it passes. In my case, my heart seem to either slow down or beat too quickly and heat seems to help in bringing my body back to a calmer state. One episode usually lasts 30 minutes to an hour (in extreme cases). If I catch myself quickly enough, taking a warm bath will also help reduce the amount of time by at least half.

    Coffee doesn’t seem to affect me and, in fact, it usually helps. Any hot beverages, really, especially just plain hot water. Maybe you could try hot water next time? I know it is readily available in Shanghai restaurants and shops so you can try and take a break and sip some hot water when you notice it happen. Hope this will help a bit if you have not yet tried.

    Thanks again for writing so openly about your experiences. Wishing you all the best and sending positive thoughts your way!


    1. Thank you for your thought-out comment. I really do appreciate it. I can’t drink coffee when I have an anxiety attack because the caffeine makes me more alert and therefore my brain really gets “creative.” I’m jumping off the walls even more and my heart only beats faster. Not a pretty sight. :O Again, thank you for commenting and sharing your suggestions. 🙂


  2. Yes, it’s no fun to be ill, physically or psychologically away from home. It sounds like you’re getting a handle on how to handle, if not prevent, your anxiety such as avoiding caffeine (also in chocolate and tea). My daughter, now 30, had such anxiety attacks as a youth but ‘outgrew’ them- different beast for an adult.

    Some people think MSG could trigger such attacks though I imagine MSG is pretty much impossible to avoid in China or Taiwan if you eat in restaurants:
    “MSG has various detrimental effects, which include triggering asthma attacks and exacerbating migraine headaches. Studies have shown that oral ingestion of MSG can provoke asthma attacks in patients diagnosed with asthma, and bring about symptoms of the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS). The CRS is a collection of symptoms that include sweating, headache, flushing, and in more serious cases, swelling of the throat and chest pain.”

    Thanks for the selfie, you were feeling pretty because you are pretty. Thanks for a brave, revealing post.


  3. Yes, I’m going to give up coffee to help myself cope with anxiety… It’s just so hard as it’s so tasty! Anyway, thanks for sharing, I’ve found some useful tips for me.


    1. I hear you! I still drink coffee, I just drink much less. 🙂 I am happy to hear that you found some useful tips. 🙂


  4. thanks for the like. i’m old, but lived in Shanghai pre WWII when my dad was an expat US businessman. I too suffer from anxiety, lately over using social media as i’m on the way to publishing a book that includes my early Shanghai years. Thanks for some good thoughts on coping!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Eileen, loved your post! 🙂 I know the familiar feeling of panic and anxiety. And it can get worse abroad. Yoga, walks, and green tea is a perfect way to stay rational. So I have learned. Look forward to reading more on your blog!
    – cheers


  6. Thank you for sharing. Both of my daughters have anxiety and the way you described it helps me understand better. It sounds like you have found some good ways to manage it. I enjoyed your writing.


  7. Anxiety is such a horrible feeling and I can imagine this whole scenario. I often slip into depression if I stop keeping up the same healthy lifestyle changes you’ve adopted or sometimes during tougher times. The last time I got anxiety was getting a plane back from berlin and the panic you described was so accurate. An amazing post with such good advice at the end and I hope you rarely experience it now as a result Eileen


    1. Thank you, I really appreciate that you took the time to comment. I also hope you rarely experience anxiety, as well!


  8. hi
    Thank u for sharing your experiences and emotions with us. I have had social anxiety when I was earlier (I’m 34 now)… I remember a lot of the emotions you have been through and it breaks my heart,.. It was very tuff for me as well. I want to stick to positives and tell you, that everything is going to be ok. Tell your future self that!.. Because that is the truth. And you are doing a great job by sharing it here, and working on becoming better every day. What is helping me today,is going towards my fears.. Which is approaching women and stating I like them. This makes me more confident for every day, and slowly takes away my anxietys. I wish I had been doing it when I was younger… But I’m not even sure if I was at that stage before to so so. Anyways, deep breaths calm the body incredibly much. Try taking 10 deep breatsh that will make your body all relaxed,, it works for me. But it’s easy to forget to do.


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