Stress and Anxiety

Stress can help us remain motivated and focused. It’s normal to get stressed or anxious sometimes, such before an exam or sports match, or when you’re in danger or feeling threatened. However, too much stress can cause problems.

As an international student, you may feel more anxious than usual. Many things are likely to be new to you, and if English is your second language you may not understand everything that is being said. You may also feel lonely and be missing your family and friends from home.

While these feelings of stress and anxiety may be unsettling, they’re unlikely to last for long. If they do persist, and begin to affect your daily life at school and home, it’s important to tell someone.

If your anxiety gets so bad that you begin to think life is not worth going on with, or that everyone would be better off without you, seek help immediately

Download PDF on Stress and Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety differ between people, but can include feeling irritable and unable to relax. You may be struggling to concentrate, or find you get upset or angry more easily than usual.

You may have repeated negative thoughts, or even think you’re losing your mind or that something terrible will happen to you.

You may also have physical symptoms, such as:

  • feeling constantly tired
  • shortness of breath or the feeling that you’re choking
  • a tight chest
  • trembling or shaking
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • sore stomach or headaches
  • sweating
  • changes in eating habits
  • confusion and finding it hard to make decisions
  • the need to carry out certain tasks repetitively, such as washing your hands.

Types of anxiety

Anxiety is very common, and most people will experience it at some stage. There are many types of anxiety.

If your feelings of anxiety have continued for six months or more, you may have generalised anxiety disorder.

If you notice your heart is being fast, you are unable to breathe, you are shaking and feel dizzy, it may feel like you’re having a heart attack but you’re probably having a panic attack. They can be very frightening, and do not usually go away without help.

If you have lost your confidence and have started making excuses not to see your friends after school or at the weekends, you may have social anxiety.

Where to go for help

Talking to someone about your thoughts and feelings can help you overcome your anxiety.

You could talk to the international staff, or see your school counsellor or a doctor. The international staff or your homestay family can help you make an appointment.

If your symptoms are mild, you could also try:

  • exercising for at least half an hour a day
  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • developing good sleeping habits
  • limiting your coffee intake, as the caffeine in coffee can increase anxiety
  • taking time out to do something you enjoy, such as listening to music or doing yoga.


Depression is more than just feeling a bit down. If you feel constantly sad, have lost interest in activities you usually enjoy and haven’t been able to carry out your usual daily activities for at least two weeks, you may be depressed.

You may feel stressed and anxious from living in another culture, feeling homesick and not always understanding the language. If these feelings continue, they may lead to depression.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • struggling to concentrate or being forgetful
  • feeling tired and unmotivated
  • feeling irritable, having severe mood swings or feeling uncontrollably angry
  • having unexplained aches and pains, such as headaches
  • using drugs or alcohol to cope with negative feelings
  • feeling worthless or guilty.

Some people with depression have a negative view of themselves, thinking they’re a failure or that no-one cares about them.

If your depression leads you to hurt yourself on purpose, or you have thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately.

Download PDF on Depression

Where to go for help

It’s important to get help for depression, as most people won’t be able to overcome it without support.

You could talk to the international staff, or see your school counsellor or a doctor. The international staff or your homestay family can help you make an appointment.

Useful resources

You might find these apps, helplines, online therapy tools and resources useful




Aunty Dee

The Lowdown

Common Ground

Mental Health Foundation

Southern Cross


Culture shock

It’s very common to experience culture shock when you arrive in a country with different customs and traditions. Culture shock is the body’s normal response to change, when you no longer feel as in control as you did in your home country.

You may experience many different emotions, including excitement, frustration, anxiety, fear of the unknown and ‘sensory overload’, when your body is over-stimulated by your environment. Many international students experience sensory overload when they have been given lots of information over a short time and are struggling to process it all.

Download PDF on Culture Shock

Symptoms of culture shock

Most international students will be affected by culture shock, but not everyone will experience the same feelings. 

Symptoms of culture shock include: 

  • extreme tiredness
  • overpowering homesickness; questioning your decision to study abroad
  • feeling isolated and helpless
  • changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • nausea
  • feeling unable to concentrate
  • withdrawing – spending lots of time in your room and not mixing with others
  • headaches
  • feeling irritable or angry
  • believing New Zealand customs or ways of doing things are wrong. 

Stages of culture shock

There are different theories on ways people adapt to a new culture. One theory identifies four stages, and says the time it takes to overcome each stage will be different for everyone.

Stage 1: Honeymoon stage

You may be excited by the things that are new and different from your home culture. If you write a list of everything you like about New Zealand now, it may be helpful to be reminded of these things if you later go on to enter the frustration stage of culture shock. 

Stage 2: Frustration stage

Without your support systems from home, you may feel lonely, frustrated, confused, angry and critical of New Zealand. This stage may take some time to overcome, and may lead to anxiety disorders if you do not seek help or find ways to overcome your culture shock. 

It can help to find a healthy distraction. You could cook a meal from home for your homestay family, watch your favourite TV programme or go for a walk. You may feel like taking a break from everything new, but it’s not helpful to shut yourself away in your bedroom all the time. 

Stage 3: Adjustment stage

Day-to-day life may be getting easier. You may be starting to understand New Zealand culture and Kiwis’ gestures and body language.

Stage 4: Acceptance stage

You may feel a sense of comfort with your environment, and the language barrier may be less of a problem. You may still feel homesick sometimes, but you may feel more confident about how to overcome these feelings.

Where to go for help

Your international staff are experienced in helping students with culture shock, so ask them for advice and ideas. 

You could also try: 

  • asking other students how they got over culture shock
  • staying in regular contact with friends and family from home
  • decorating your room with things that remind you of home
  • learning as much as you can about New Zealand, such as what is considered polite or rude, and Kiwi body language
  • join a club or take up a hobby
  • try not to judge the way things are done in New Zealand
  • make an effort to learn English
  • learn ways to overcome stress
  • make a list of goals you want to achieve in New Zealand.