How moving to Switzerland changed my life

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.

My first time skiing in Switzerland. Photo credit: Stan Tsvirko, copyright 2019

My first time skiing in Switzerland. Photo credit: Stan Tsvirko, copyright 2019

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. 

Bern, Switzerland. Photo credit: Stan Tsvirko 2019

Bern, Switzerland. Photo credit: Stan Tsvirko 2019

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.

Namaste, 

Naomi Tsvirko x

Episode One of Dating Basel: The Awkward Stage

The school drop. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko 

The school drop. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko 

There is this scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory goes to a restaurant on a first date and her date sits next to her, not across to her, but next to her! Awk-ward! So Rory calls her mum, Lorelai, and asks for advice on how to deal with the date and her mum tells her to move seats and blame it on an air vent. Why am I telling you this story? Because if you’ve been reading my blog (hi Mum) you will remember I had this plan to date a city. I mentioned romantic strolls by the Rhine and candlelit dinners. Well let’s just say, I’m Rory and Basel is sitting next to me, not across to me (okay, maybe Basel is Rory and I'm the awkward one). So anyway, here’s how the first date went down:

It was a Tuesday and I dropped the children off at school and thought ‘freeedooom and must have coffeeeee!’ But nothing was open. At 8.35am. Nothing. I could not find anywhere to have a coffee near their school (nothing like Stanmore school drop offs). I took a tram into the middle of the city and strolled for ten minutes. Still nothing. Eventually I found this cute little café that looked open but actually didn’t open until 9am. By that stage, that would've been a 15 minute wait for coffee. Way too long for someone who gets those awful coffee withdrawal headaches, so I decided to go back home and then, bam! Right there in front of Marktplatz tram stop I found a bakery! I rejoiced, my first date with Basel was saved, and the sweets looked a-may-zing! In my coffee deprived brain I even heard that ‘Halleluiah, Halleluiah!’ song when I saw the window display, and i'm sure a glistening ray of light shone on a croissant. 

Strolls across the bridge, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Strolls across the bridge, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Annoyingly, there wasn’t anywhere to sit outside, but I took that as a good sign, a sign that the coffee would be great. I walked/skipped in and asked to sit down but the woman at the counter couldn’t speak English. She looked right through me. I looked around and there was an empty table facing the counter, I shifted sideways to that seat, maintaining eye contact with the woman to ensure it was okay to sit there. I must have looked like Mr. Bean as I sat down staring at her silently because she looked puzzled.

I sat there in silence for five minutes before a waiter walked out of the kitchen and looked startled when he saw me sitting at the table. “Grüezi,” he said politely but didn’t take my order, he just disappeared upstairs. I pulled out my notebook and tried to act ‘local’. Two Swiss men walked in to pay the woman at the counter. I watched on, envious at how swift and easy the transaction was. Finally, the woman took my order which was relatively painless, ‘a cappuccino and a croissant please’. She nodded, a win.

I devoured the crispiest, freshest croissant and best coffee I'd had since Sydney, and as I was finishing the last bite another waiter walked out of the kitchen and stepped back when he saw me, he too went upstairs. That’s when I realised the locals go upstairs! Turns out I was sitting awkwardly alone in front of the lady at the counter when I could have been upstairs where everyone else was being served. Arghhh. If you’re ever in Basel and want great coffee, the café is Confiserie Schiesser Basel and if there aren’t any seats outside, go upstairs. You’re welcome. (scroll down to read more)

Marktplatz, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Marktplatz, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Following this awkward alone date, I went to the Migros supermarket to get groceries because when you drop kids off at school it feels like you get ten minutes alone before having to pick them up (and when you pick them up they’re always hungry). I caught the tram to Claraplatz and asked three employees where I could find honey. Not one of them could speak English. I resorted to wiggling my index finger in a zig zag motion and began to buzz like a bee and repeated the word ‘ho-ney’ loudly. I soon had an audience of two staff members and one shopper staring at me as if we were playing charades. I continued to say the word ‘hon-eey’ as if the woman would understand if I buzzed or raised my voice. She looked beyond confused, possibly scared and kept her eyes on me as she called a colleague who could speak English. I was sent to level two, where I found honey and two security guards.

That night, I called my mother to tell her about the coffee date, she told me I should have gone upstairs and blamed it on an air vent, nope, that's a lie and what my fictional mother Lorelai would say. My actual mother told me to toughen up and learn German.

Date one. Awks. But I still like Basel.

Later Nomads,

Nomad Naomi 

.The view of the counter - Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.The view of the counter - Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko