How to Maintain your Mental Health on the JET Programme

Hey Everyone!

It’s me your friendly neighbourhood Gaijin back to talk about the JET Programme. I know most of you have your interviews coming up, or maybe some of you have even already started. Good luck! However, today’s discussion will be about mental health in honour of Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. When you’re a foreigner to Japan you are constantly learning new things. Most newly graduated students may be facing culture shock, growing pains and discovering new things about themselves, all while maintaining their composure within the Japanese society. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the desire to fit in, assimilate, or not feeling accepted for who you are at times. Nonetheless we must do our jobs and become better than we were yesterday. Here are 5 tips on maintaining your mental health while you are on the JET Programme; whether you are in the countryside or the big cities I hope to provide you with some tips and tricks to focus yourself and ward off anxiety.

1. Maintain a Healthy Diet

In Japan it is very easy to head towards one end of the food lifestyle spectrum, healthy or unhealthy. On one hand you’ve probably never had such great sushi, Okonomiyaki, ramen or convenience store food in your life. Let’s be honest, they don’t offer the same quality of food back in the conveniences stores of North America. Nevertheless, that does not mean we should be eating instant ramen often because it is extremely convenient. Instant ramen is extremely unhealthy and has been associated with increased risks of metabolic syndrome, as well as symptoms such as excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal blood lipid levels (1). Now to be honest, convenience store food does not have to be unhealthy. We have a choice in purchasing extremely unhealthy food, in fact there are some options with vegetables so that we can accomplish a balanced diet. It’s always best to cook your own meals so you know what is in them, for example mushrooms are readily available in Japan along with cheap fish. I personally like to buy a bunch of different types of mushrooms, fish and some meats; so that when I get home I can just grab some vegetables and meat (which I probably seasoned in the morning) to eat alongside the rice I prepare.

Image result for japanese convenience store food

If you take a look at this photo, all of the food looks better than a simple corn dog or slurpie. However, if you actually take the time to read the small labels what you find is a load of preservatives used to keep the food appealing and edible.

2. Maintain Healthy Activity

“Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy and happy people don’t kill their husbands!” – Elle Woods, Legally Blonde

Healthy activity is a very important factor for me to ward off any anxiety I am feeling. The exercise tires my body and mind out, so that I am not kept up at night constantly  worrying about needless things. This makes me have very satisfying and relaxing rests, even though I am occasionally tired during the day. There are also many studies linking exercise with beneficial enhancements to one’s mood. Of course, just exercise will not remove the reason for why one’s depressed, but it may relieve some of the external pressure and stress.  Furthermore, it is has been shown that the frequency of exercise is more important than the duration of the activity when one does not have a well established fitness routine (2).  So why might this be difficult? Well, in Canada I was used to a gym which was basically open whenever I would even consider going. Sure, it was a bit pricey at $50 per month; but, I had all the lifting machines, studios and resources I needed.  In Japan, there is a gym which is only 10 minutes away from my house and it is the only area which has a machine even remotely close to a bench press. My personal advice is to try and take up other active hobbies such as: bouldering, hiking, badminton, baseball, snowboarding, skiing and etc. Japan may not have as strong of a gym culture as North America, however, they are extremely skinny for a reason.

Image result for Bouldering in Japan

3. Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

Now I’m not saying you need an intervention, but I believe at our bad times it is of utmost importance to analyze ourselves with a clear head. There’s no point in starting to look at yourself, if your mindset is already plagued with negative self-depreciating thoughts. If this was a test for yourself, let’s start it off right. Take 5 minutes to meditate, do some yoga, do something that may raise your mood, but not too much. As much as not being too negative is a detriment, being on a high – not a plant-induced one, is also not beneficial. Being calm is one of the most important aspects for me to think clearly.

Okay, our mind is clear – so now what? Try to rationalize with yourself or with a friend why you feel so angry. Was it something you did? Something someone did to you? How did it make you feel and why? Don’t jump to conclusions, think about what happened carefully. Sometimes it could be a cultural misunderstanding, or maybe you’re just in your head too much. In order to calm yourself down at the end, you need to come to a resolution. Whose fault was it? What can I do about it next time? Don’t get me wrong, I am no expert. Though I do know what it feels like being stressed over things that may not necessarily be your fault.

Image result for Reflect

4. Splurge for Self-care

I know you may not want to, but do something for yourself. Some people call this self-care, whether it be buying a massage, going on a trip to Kyoto or buying a new luxury bag from store. Do things for yourself that will make you happy. One of the inexpensive things I do for myself at times is cook a healthy meal or new recipe. It helps me feel a bit more accomplished and alleviates my mood because I actually managed to save some money, eat healthy and accomplished something. Other times I will buy: Apple Airpods, update my wardrobe or buy video game credits. It’s a bit of a splurge, but just knowing I have a comfortable living style that I can buy my own stuff as opposed to university is very nice. Now money can not make you love yourself, but in certain instances it can be a quick-fix to lighten your mood.

5. CLAIR’s services for Mental Health Support

Now we may not always be open to asking for help, but there are times in life where we have to admit to ourselves that we are struggling. It’s not very easy, but it’s better than just needlessly suffering by yourself with no hope of finding the answers you are looking for. It’s better to ask for help earlier than later at times like these, in my opinion. Luckily CLAIR offers mental health support and the link is in their monthly news letter. Furthermore, if you need more assistance, don’t be hesitant to contact your contracting organization for the information. This includes free web counselling and/or skype sessions with a counselor, in hopes that they can help alleviate your anxiety. Now let me make this clear, the services offered are mental health professionals – but, they are not psychologists/ psychiatrists. If you have severe symptoms, they may be able to help you, but they might not be able to help you completely stop all of your problems. At that point, you may need to go see a doctor. There is a portion of the JET insurance which does cover some psychiatry or psychologists, but those services are generally located closer to the city.

The purpose of the Bell Let’s Talk day is to raise awareness and to show everyone that “It is okay, to not be okay.” However, when you recognize that you are not okay you should seek the help you need. When we see something wrong in other people, we generally tell them in hopes that they will fix it – so why not ourselves too?  Furthermore, whether you’re in Japan or Canada it should never be a detriment to your character, morale or pride to request help for a just cause as a grown adult.

That’s all for today guys. If you have any opinions or comments, leave them below.

Stay Happy!

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24966409
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/

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