Struggling with Culture Shock & Life Transitions: Notes From a Student On the Little Things That Helped Her with Feelings of Depression & Anxiety

During all of my five years in college, I had experienced severe depression and anxiety disorders. When I first came abroad to the US, I had to adjust to a completely different culture, language and people. Like many of my international friends, some people might have seen this opportunity as a fun, daring challenge. For me, I ended up finding myself becoming extremely nervous and self-conscious in social settings and becoming very self-critical during this time. Now, I understand better that everyone reacts differently to different situations, and that it’s okay to have suffered, when you experience changes that make you feel like your world’s been turned upside down. Back then, I simply couldn’t accept it and bear with myself. I think the key word that describes my college experience is “self-hatred.” As an undergraduate student, I abhorred how I didn’t have the courage to speak up in classes because I was worried my blue-eyed, blonde-haired classmates would judge me, and how it was so difficult for me to follow through all the academic materials. And this was especially upsetting to me because I had become the complete opposite of who I used to be back home.


In my second, third, and fourth years of school, my feelings of depression took a spiral down. I began to surround myself in self-destructive habits, such as not eating enough, consuming excessive alcohol, isolating myself from other people, and not leaving my room at all. I remember during these times that every part of my life began to suffer; I began to experience a total withdrawal from academics, emotions, relationships, and physical health. I didn’t really speak to my parents about how I was doing because what I was going through could easily be seen as a huge sign of weakness in Korean culture (and appearing competent and self-assured for my parents was everything to me back then!). It felt like I had no one by my side and I had to go through this frightening and devastating ordeal alone. Upon opening up to my school advisor about my struggles (I had to because I needed to explain my absences and my poor performances at that point), I agreed to take counseling sessions.

That’s when things started to turn around, slowly but surely. I started sharing my problems with the counselor, taking prescribed medication and tried my best to act on what he suggested I do. It took a tremendous amount of time for me to be able to say “I kicked depression in the ass, and I actually feel okay now.” I realized that my journey back to a state of wellness wasn’t merely from the meds though nor the counseling sessions. Rather, it was the small actions I decided to take in my daily life that made me feel better, little by little:

Indulging in a book

I found reading very powerful and healing during depression. Not only it offers you much broader perspectives on what life is about and how to come to terms with your emotional distress, it also gives you a chance to focus on something else. Books about depression were good, but funny reads and the ones I’d always wanted to read were just as therapeutic for me.

Cutting off social media

We all need a break from social media at some point or another. During difficult times, I often found myself scrolling through friends’ insta feeds and kept comparing my life to theirs. I couldn’t help but think, “Why can’t I be happy like him?” and “Why can’t I do well in life like her?” These types of toxic thoughts may only make matters worse. Cutting social media off for a while helped me tremendously with focusing on just myself when I needed it the most.

Lunch dates with friends

I certainly didn’t feel like pursuing this at first, but setting up lunch plans with friends helped me substantially with getting through depression. A burden shared is a burden halved, but meeting with friends doesn’t necessarily demand that you have to talk about your situation – it just offers a way to expose yourself to one of your biggest available support groups. Being around my friends regularly and the positive energy I surrounded myself with made me feel better about myself and helped me move forward. I realize I never would have gotten through my problems alone.

Meditating before bed

This is one of the habits I still keep, even after having gotten through the worst part of my depression. Taking the time to calmly collect my thoughts before bed relieved a lot of my anxiety. This with meditation, helped me eventually overcome the panic attacks that would come before and during my sleep. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend downloading a meditation app on your phone, and giving it a go. When you’re feeling restless and drained, introducing enforced peace and serenity into your headspace can help bring closure to a lot of things.

Exercising

Yes, exercising was definitely the last thing I wanted to do, especially when I felt like not doing anything at all, but I always felt much better after dragging myself to the gym and working out. It’s a scientifically proven fact that exercise eases symptoms of depression and anxiety, thanks to our bodies and endorphins. But not only this, I also felt a sense of achievement and motivation, which I couldn’t easily feel at that time from any other activities.

It neither scares me nor worries me like it used to though now, because I know I’ll be able to manage it much better in the future if it does happen again.

-Jamie Oh

Now that I’ve actually experienced it, I really believe depression can happen to anyone, even to the strongest and most will-power driven people we know. Factually, depression is regarded as having a very high relapse rate. It neither scares me nor worries me like it used to though now, because I know I’ll be able to manage it much better in the future if it does happen again. Today, I think we often tend to overlook the importance of mental health and wellness because we’re all so busy and determined to live our lives, and we forget to see what really it matters. I’m here to say that it all does matter; it matters to be aware of your mental health and to give your brain a chance to heal and cool down sometimes.

By Jamie Oh

Edited by Susan Im

Jamie Oh is an alumni of University of Virginia, having completed her studies in Music. Since then, she’s pursued a career in fashion & beauty in New York City, and is a Master’s Degree candidate for Fashion Marketing at LIM College.

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