6 tips for coping with expat stress
Moving away from a familiar environment in hopes of a stable income and professional development isn’t easy. According to VOX EU, 13% of all workers in the EU are foreign-born expats, working in industries such as cleaning (25%) and personal care (14%). While being an expat (or “expatriate”, living outside of one’s native country) may be beneficial for your professional life, stress and anxiety can creep in.
Combined with the sheer volume of people seeking better lives abroad, expat stress has become a massive issue for many. While difficult to cope with, expat stress can be alleviated somewhat through different activities and a change in personal habits. Let’s discuss how you can cope with it better in 2021 and how to detect expat stress in yourself and those around you early on.
Symptoms commonly associated with expat stress
Different people will react to stressful situations in a variety of ways and it can be difficult to notice changes in their behaviour on time. However, people living and working abroad will inherently feel melancholic and home-sick at random intervals – this is completely normal.
Finding a good support system and taking steps to alleviate said stress is where things get tricky, as many people dismiss their own stress. According to Forbes, only 50% of workers are comfortable discussing mental health and stress, with 18% experiencing nervousness or anxiety at work. If you or your colleague live and work abroad, these are the symptoms which you should be on the lookout for:
- Lack of motivation and productivity
- Poor sleeping schedule and exhaustion
- Bad diet and upset stomach
- Mood swings and emotional outbursts
- Sudden social anxiety and withdrawal
How to cope with expat stress more easily
Here are six tips to help you cope with expat stress.
1. Remind yourself why you are an expat
Moving abroad and starting a new life is not an easy task, no matter how young or financially-stable you may be. Before you give in to expat stress, remind yourself of “why” you have moved to a different country in the first place. Those reasons can include but are not limited to:
- Your spouse is from abroad and you joined him/her
- You have a new professional opportunity from a good company
- You are joining a friend or relative who invited you to live with them
- You can earn a lot more money abroad than you would back home
It’s true that “money can’t buy happiness,” but income is a pivotal part of what makes modern life possible. Travel, rent, clothing and going out aren’t possible without a stable income, which working abroad will help you get. Before looking at the negatives, think of the positives and the good things that living abroad has brought you.
2. Go out and explore your town
Most expats struggle with stress related to their environment, meaning that they long for their home towns and familiar landmarks. Whether you moved to a metropolis such as Munich or a small rural town in France, your new environment will definitely have plenty of sights.
Encourage yourself to dress up and simply go for short walks around the block and try to look up your new town on the web. Different countries treat their historic sights and landmarks differently, so you will definitely find your new favourite spot if you give exploration a fair chance.
3. Pick up a hobby or apply for a course
Luckily, you don’t need a lot, if any, money to start a new hobby. Hobbies are a great way to pass the time, learn something new and swat away any stress you might experience. Courses in local startups and language schools can also fill your time and help you meet new people effortlessly.
Again, the internet is your best resource when it comes to hobbies or local courses which you can participate in, so look up what's going on in your town. There are a number of expat platforms out there (including this one!) that can serve as great resources for dealing not only with stress but also personal and professional life management.
4. Cook your favourite meals from back home
Eating good food will always help with stress-related issues, especially if you work and live abroad. Give your parents or relatives a call and ask for recipes which you can cook in order to remind yourself of home.
If you come from countries such as Greece, Italy or Germany, you may also be able to find local restaurants or fast food places locally. Many families move abroad and start their own food businesses, not only to share their country’s cuisine but also to feed other expats. Don’t forget to eat and eat well, since stress can lead to malnutrition, poor diet and lack of sleep, further complicating your expat experience.
5. Focus on the positives of your new life
There will undoubtedly come times when you wish you could just pack up and leave your expat life in order to go home. But, is that really what you want or are you just going through a melancholic phase? Instead of making rash decisions or letting depression creep in, grab a piece of paper and write down what you’re grateful for while abroad.
What are the positive changes you’ve experienced since coming to a new country, and what are the things you don’t miss about home? It’s easy to embellish the situation that made you become an expat by thinking of all the good experiences you’ve had back home. However, there are valid, objective reasons for moving abroad – focus on the positives and embrace them.
6. Get in touch with friends and family
Luckily, modern technology has enabled us to get in touch with people around the world at the press of a button. If you are stressed and homesick, why not give someone back home a call? You can video chat with friends and family at any time, provided that both of you find the opportune time to do so.
Finding that one person to listen to your complaints and arguments is an amazing way to alleviate the stress of working abroad. Better yet, you can ask that person to send you a small package with local sweets, spices or anything you might crave from home. Working abroad doesn’t mean you should cut ties with everyone back home – get in touch and use it as a stress vent.
Be patient with yourself
The most important piece of advice in regards to being an expat is to simply give it time. Uprooting your old life and coming to a different country in pursuit of a better tomorrow is no small feat.
You will have ups and downs regardless of how positive of a person you may be in general. You are not alone in this – many people have made the difficult decision to move abroad in hopes of starting anew. Give these tips a chance and make sure that you focus on the good things around you – don’t give in to expat stress.