6 things mentally strong expats don’t do

6 things mentally strong expats don’t do

It might seem adventurous and glamorous, but expat life also comes with its own package of challenges. One of the studies on expatriation I came across showed that expats were much more likely to express feelings of being trapped, isolated and depressed compared to their compatriots.

The corona crisis and its huge impact on the whole world - and in particular on people’s mobility - has not made things any easier. Mental health and mental strength are topics that should keep on being highlighted, hence this article. So, what are seven things mentally strong expats DON’T do?

1. They don’t shut themselves off

Feeling homesick is a problem many of us who live abroad face. We miss our families, friends, and colleagues. We miss communicating in our own language. One of our top basic human needs is connecting with others. For us expats, who are used to connecting to our loved ones through Skype, being pushed totally online has made things even more difficult.

Online tools, however great, will not replace a real-life (offline) human connection. To maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy mind, we need to reach out to others.

So, if you feel lonely, do not shy away from making connections. Plan a walk in a park with a colleague or a friend. If you do not have people around you to ask, just put a shout out in one of the many Facebook expat groups.

2. They aren’t afraid of reaching out for support

Rather than suggesting weakness, recognising that you are struggling is an act of strength. Our main source of suffering is often rooted in the fact that we continuously compare ourselves with others. We see happy faces on social media and immediately our mind produces the thought, “Oh, she is so lucky” or "Why can’t I be feeling, doing…” But often what we see on the outside does not fully match the reality. We all have our own struggles, however perfect our Facebook or Instagram posts look.

Additionally, when we move and live abroad, we do not know who we can reach out to for help. That’s why the first point is so important: you need to build a support network in your new country. If you do not have a well-established one yet, asking for help when you need to should be your top priority.

Mentally strong people recognise their (temporary) feeling of anxiety, isolation, even depression, for what it is: a phase in their lives and a sign that they need to stop, take care of themselves, and reach out to others.

3. They don’t make negative comparisons between their new and old countries 

US President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We humans love comparing. Expats are particularly guilty of this. We keep on comparing the ways things are in our home culture to the way things are in the new one. And in the beginning, we feel like almost everything was better in our own country, although we were not aware of it when living back home. But suddenly, our doctors are smarter, the food tastes better, people are nicer, the weather better, and so on. We start glorifying our own culture.

However natural this is, it will eventually become a source of frustration and unhappiness. Mentally strong people recognise that things are not better there and worse here; things are just different. And the richness and challenges of expat life lie in recognising those differences and enjoying the best of what a given culture has to offer.

4. They don’t stick to what they know

Embracing expat life fully means meeting people from various cultures. However natural and safe it is to stay in your circle of home-based friends, it is enriching to mingle with people from all different cultures. Sticking only to your compatriots will make it easier for you to keep on doing things the old way, keep on complaining about the local culture, and so on. 

You could be asking yourself, what is wrong with that? My answer is that this will keep you in isolation and could be a source of constant irritation and frustration. Mentally strong people are open to embracing new cultures and people who do things differently.

5. They are not afraid to try new versions of themselves

Expatriation also gives us a unique chance to reinvent ourselves. Some of us left our jobs and for various reasons find ourselves asking, "What now…?" With the world around us developing so quickly, reinvention becomes our middle name. 

Reinvention can, but does not have to be limited to, a professional life. As expats, we can recognise that the part of our identity that was linked to certain roles in our old lives will cease to exist. That will leave a hole and can cause us to feel unsettled or depressed, not even realising what is happening.

Mentally strong people realise that reinvention is a part of life and grab the opportunity to ask themselves “What now?", “Who do I want to become” and “What will I focus on now?”

6. They don’t forget to look after themselves

With all these points, I want to end with a crucial one - self-care. This point is often swept under the carpet, being labelled as a sign of either weakness or egoism. But it is none of those. All the other points are only feasible if we take ourselves seriously.

So, figure out what is the best way to show yourself you care about yourself. How do you achieve mental peace? Do you meditate, go for a walk in nature, eat healthily, sleep in, have some alone time? Remember, you can only build mental strength when your mind is at peace. 

I dare say mentally strong people love themselves first - after all, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

This article originally appeared on IamExpat in the Netherlands.

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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