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Suffering with anxiety as an Au Pair

by Elena on Sep 19, 2019
Experiencing anxiety as an Au Pair - Mental Health Awareness
Not so commonly talked about, yet a lot of people are affected by it on different levels: anxiety is something that you might have heard of or experienced firsthand throughout your life. 
In this week’s article for our mental health awareness month, we are going to focus on how sometimes the Au Pair program can cause anxiety on many people. We will delve into its meaning, why and how it happens, and how to deal with it in the best way possible.

Definition of anxiety

Before we go any further with the article, we need to clarify what anxiety actually is. This word has a different meaning for each person, as it presents itself in various forms; but generally speaking, we could define it as a feeling that involves the expectation of a future threat, a threat that can be physical or emotional.
 
Now, this seems very generic. Indeed, we all experience some sort of nervousness whenever we are worried about something that will happen in the future. Let’s say you’re worried about a job interview, or about meeting somebody for the first time: you might get that slightly uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that shows that you are experiencing anxiety at that moment.
 
However, there is a difference between feeling this in a particular moment in time, caused by something specific, or experiencing it for longer periods, at a stronger intensity, and sometimes even for no apparent reason.
If this feeling accompanies you for the most part of your day, sometimes for several days in a row, you might be suffering from a certain type of anxiety. 
 
Having anxiety can affect you at different intensities and can be caused by various reasons. According to its cause, you might have a specific anxiety disorder.
 
Anxiety disorder is a label given to different mental disorders that all have anxiety as its main symptom. Some examples could be generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder, separation anxiety, etc. 
The origin of anxiety could be: 
  • genetics, 
  • the consequence of some kind of trauma, 
  • environmental, which means that it is produced by a particular environment or situation.
If you have already experienced anxiety in some way, even if you don’t have a specific diagnosis like these ones, your mental state should still be acknowledged and taken into consideration, especially when making big life decisions such as taking part in the Au Pair program. Let’s see what is the best way to deal with anxiety when you become an Au Pair.

Dealing with anxiety during the Au Pair program 

Moving to a completely new country with a different language and a new culture can definitely make you feel anxious or amplify your preexistent anxiety. 
If the latter case applies to you, it is important to recognise whether your anxiety will hinder your job at all. You will have to look after children, which is quite a big responsibility, and that can result in more stress for you. If you think you will be able to cope with this, then start your Au Pair experience! Just make sure that you will have all the tools to deal with your anxiety, should it arise while you’re abroad. 
 
It could also happen that you have never experienced anxiety before, and the Au Pair program was the trigger for it. This is totally normal and you’re not the only one that has gone through this. 
In the next paragraphs, we will see what the best options to deal with it are.

It’s a very common issue

Even though in the last few years we’ve made huge improvements in terms of visibility for mental disorders, we know that, in some contexts, it might still be quite hard to talk about them openly. Mainly because they can be seen by many as something very personal: the source of your anxiety might be something you don’t really want to relive or deal with publicly, and that is totally fine. 
 
Although these feelings are valid and legitimate, we have to remember that we are not the only ones suffering with this type of mental illness: according to the Our World in Data website, 284 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2017. And this number shows only the people that have been diagnosed officially. Many people that suffer with anxiety go under the radar because they either do not speak about it or they do not seek treatment for it, due to the stigma that is still attached to this topic. 
This stigma of mental health is slowly dying, but we still have a long way for mental disorders to be recognized as something valid, especially in terms of work environments
This applies also in the case of the Au Pair program: we understand that it might be quite hard to talk about this sort of issues with your Host Family. 
Even though this is very tough for many people, we recommend always to approach this topic with them. They will definitely want to know if there is something that prevents you from doing your job fully and enjoying your experience. 
However, if you don’t feel like talking to your Host Family yet, make sure that you seek help somewhere else: your Au Pair agency, your friends or, in more serious cases, your doctor. 

How you can deal with it 

Everyone experiences anxiety in a different way: there are different symptoms, different degrees of intensity etc. In any case, when you realise you might be suffering with anxiety, it is very important to talk about it and ask for help
 
As mentioned before, your Host Family should be your first choice: they are there to support you and make sure that you can work with their kids and enjoy your experience fully. Talk about how you are feeling with them and decide together on a possible solution or treatment.
 
If you’re not comfortable tackling the topic of your anxiety with your Host Family, then maybe go to a friend or to your Au Pair agency. If you share the load with somebody, it will most likely make you feel better. Get informed with them on what is the best option for you.
 
It is also crucial to recognise that sometimes we need help from professionals: your doctor, a therapist, a counsellor. There are many options that you can choose from, whatever makes you feel more at ease. We always recommend to get in touch with a professional, even if you think your anxiety is not severe: these people will give you tools that will help you manage your anxiety even more.

What could be the causes of anxiety during the Au Pair program?

Anxiety can be caused by so many different factors, and they depend solely on each individual. Having said that, when it comes to the Au Pair program, there are some anxiety triggers that are common amongst Au Pairs:

Culture shock

It is mainly described as a feeling that one experiences when moving to a cultural environment that is different from their own. The unfamiliarity of a new country can generate disorientation and other uncomfortable feelings, which might produce anxiety as a consequence. 
In the case of the Au Pair program specifically, this is even more common. I mean, the basis of the program is to move to a new country and to live with a foreign Host Family - you can’t be more in close touch with a new culture than like this. Many people adjust to this new lifestyle after some time, but it can happen that these anxious feelings do not leave. In this case, it is always important to understand if you need to ask for help.

Homesickness

Another very common feeling among Au Pairs is missing home, your family, your friends and the environment you are used to. This is known as feeling homesick and there are many solutions to this that we have discussed in this article.
If, even after trying these remedies, your anxious feelings do not stop, then it might be time to talk about it with your Host Family, or your friends. If you feel like you need professional help, do not be afraid to ask for it! There is nothing wrong with talking about your feelings with a doctor, and they will definitely be able to give you the right tools to deal with this issue.

Loneliness

Being alone abroad and not being able to make any new friends can also be a source of anxiety for many Au Pairs. A consequence of being alone is feeling lonely, which could definitely influence every aspect of your daily life.
Again, it is important to talk about this with your Host Family: they might be able to introduce you to some other Au Pairs or some of their friends to help you deal with this!
Our article about how to make friends abroad will definitely help you and give you some ideas on meeting new people. 
Still, we know that a quick fix does not work for everyone, anxiety runs much deeper than this. So make sure that you seek help if you feel like you need to. 
 

Seek help!

We cannot reiterate this enough. And by help, we don’t only mean professional help (although that is always the first recommendation).
If you don’t feel ready to talk to a doctor yet, try some other remedies.
Meditation, for example, is known for helping many people that suffer with mild anxiety. An app that we would recommend for this is Headspace or Buddhify
Physical activity, going to the gym, practising sports or yoga are also great ways to cope with your anxious feelings. 
Everyone is different, so try to find out what could alleviate your anxiety. And remember, do not be afraid to talk about it!

In the next part of our series we will talk about substance abuse during the Au Pair program.  
 
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