Since moving to Basel, Switzerland I have been blessed to have what Oprah considers one of the most valuable gifts a person can give themselves. No, it’s not a beautiful home organised by Marie Kondo or a Ferrari with Eckhart Tolle’s voice on the NavMan - it’s the gift of ‘time’ or as Oprah puts it ‘taking time to be more fully present’.
In fact, experts at Rice University in Texas, believe living abroad ‘enhances self-concept clarity’ and that includes greater self-awareness and better psychological wellbeing.
Although I am missing family and friends back home in Australia tremendously, having ‘self-concept clarity’, which is just a fancy way of saying having more time alone to reflect, I have realised that my life in Sydney was too fast paced, work-centred and frankly driven by anxiety. In fact, a family member who spoke to me recently had the guts to describe me/my life before moving to Basel as a ‘hot mess’. My health was not a priority, my diet consisted of an embarrassing amount of meals from McDonald’s drive thru (to the point where the staff knew me by name, insert facepalm emoji), constant Uber Eats deliveries and way too much caffeine. I also had a stress-induced eyelid flicker that just wouldn’t go away. I saw many doctors and tried prescription medicine and herbal medicine but it did not stop flickering. I was told to take time off work which wasn’t an option at the time, and my eyelid just continued to play up until I moved to Basel.
Now here’s the thing, I have no one to blame for my poor lifestyle choices but myself and the funny part is I truly didn’t think anything was wrong. I would worry about insignificant things and lose sleep replaying scenes from the day, critically analysing things I said and did that might be wrong. Sometimes things were so bad I would cry and my lungs would tighten to the point where I felt breathing was difficult. If you are reading this and you hear me, I mean really hear me, then you recognise my symptoms and have probably felt them yourself. Yes, it’s my dear friend Aunty Anxiety who has lived in my mind since I was a child. As an adult, she comes to visit when I am choosing to neglect what matters, my health.
As a child I would worry every time my parents left the house, I was scared they’d die and not return. Crazy! But that’s how anxiety works and as an adult anxiety was something I learnt to live with, like a messy roommate who had been so comfortable living in my mind for so long that I felt it was too late to ask her to move out.
I have never taken medicine to deal with anxiety because I am too anxious about side effects, yep, that’s a thing only an anxious mind can understand. But I am not alone ‘the prevalence of anxiety disorders across the world varies from 2.5 to 6.5 percent by country. Globally an estimated 275 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2016, making it the most prevalent mental health or neurodevelopmental disorder’.
Since moving to Switzerland, a country which almost always ranks in the top 5 happiest countries in the world I have learnt to slow down, breathe and not sweat the small stuff. Although moving abroad has helped me manage my time, it is my current choices and not my location that have improved my life. I have started to treat my mind the way people treat a failed business or broken arm. I have read over fifty books about mental health, psychology and happiness. I am subscribed and actively listening to podcasts about self-improvement and I am not ashamed to say that healing your mind is just as important as healing your body.
What I have learnt so far has been invaluable and I’d like to share some of the life lessons I have uncovered with those who are interested. Here are the top five things that are helping me live a better life:
1. Exercise: I freaking hate exercise. It takes everything in me to show up every second day at the gym but honestly in some mysterious (or scientifically proven) way my brain has been much calmer since exercising. My gym buddy keeps me motivated and without her I would go much less, but I am so glad I joined the gym because I am no longer out of breath when I walk up a flight of stairs.
2. Reading: If there is one book you read this year I hope this is it “The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness” by Ichiro Kishimi Fumitake Koga (Author). I am now a massive fan of Adlerian psychology and love how this book simplifies problems.
3. Food: Improving my diet is still something I am struggling with but have made massive changes to make the right decisions when it comes to eating right. I don’t believe in abstaining from types of food because that just makes me want that particular food more, instead what works for me is meal prepping and food substitution, so instead of of telling myself that ‘I don’t eat potato chips’, I say ‘I eat popcorn now’ (a healthier substitute for chips).
4. Mindfulness, Honesty and Forgiveness: Being honest with myself about my life path and learning to forgive myself for the stupid stuff my anxious mind keeps reminding me I have done. I believe in spirituality, the power of journaling and goal setting, but taking time to focus on these things can only be done when we are honest about our capacity and where our time goes.
I am sharing this because I hope that at least one person out there can benefit from my journey, maybe it’s a busy working mum or university student who is struggling to cope and doesn’t know where to start. I hope you find your way out of it.
Finally, sure, the location change helped me reflect on my life, values and goals, but the more I look back at the healthier choices I have made in the past few months, the more I realise that I could have made all those simple changes back home…if I gave myself the time.
I hope you give yourself some time.
If you have had any similar life changing moments, please share your thoughts or comment below, I’d love to hear from you. You can also follow my journey on Instagram @naomi_tsvirko or on Facebook or Twitter @naomitsvirko.
Naomi Tsvirko x