The expatriate experience is challenging. From living in a new country, adapting to different customs and cultures, to dealing with homesickness, it can be overwhelming for expats to face the challenges of living abroad.
Expats who struggle can learn how to accept their situation and commit themselves to making the most of their time abroad. With Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), they can develop a sense of mastery over their lives and thrive with expat acceptance.
What is ACT?
ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, uses acceptance and mindfulness-based strategies to reduce stress and anxiety, overcome fear, and lead a meaningful life.
Through ACT, expats can learn to let go of the impossible expectation that they’re always supposed to be happy and instead recognize the wide range of emotions that make up a satisfying life.
The overarching goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility, which is the ability to be open to new experiences and thoughts and act according to one’s values.
This therapy is proven to be effective in helping people overcome their anxiety by teaching expat acceptance or how to accept things they cannot change and committing themselves fully to what they can control.
So, when it comes to expatriate living and all its challenges, changes, and new or unwelcome emotions, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help expats accept all these aspects of their life abroad and commit to doing what they can for the sake of their wellbeing.
How do expats fall into happiness traps?
A few common ways of thinking tend to get people caught in a happiness trap. For instance, the myth is that we must let go of negative feelings or control what we think or feel to be happy. When in reality, control is an illusion.
So, someone new to living abroad – or even an expat who has been away for a while – may continually struggle believing that their lives or feelings should be something other than what they are. For instance, social media consistently reinforced the idea that thinking happy thoughts will make you happy and the other way around. ACT teaches us to rewire our beliefs about how happiness works.
ACT principles can teach us that living life to the fullest means experiencing all emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. Expats who learn to accept their inevitably painful thoughts and feelings without beating themselves up over them can begin to free themselves from happiness traps – in other words, falling into myths about what happiness is and how to obtain it. They can do that with the help of an expat psychologist.
How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy apply to expats?
Some of the biggest challenges for expats can be homesickness or feeling like they don’t quite fit into their new surroundings – whether they miss their home country and friends or feel like they don’t know how to do things the “local way.”
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps expats acknowledge that they may never be ultimately able to adapt to life in their new country or feel 100% comfortable there, and that’s okay – they can still live a meaningful life!
This therapy can also help expats identify what’s important to them in life, for instance, making new friends, learning the language, and exploring their new surroundings. With this knowledge, they can commit to living in line with their values, even if that means occasionally feeling uncomfortable or homesick.
It can be difficult to manage feelings of anxiety, homesickness, and culture shock when living in a new country. Plus, new or unwelcome emotions like confusion, isolation, loss of self-esteem, and even depression often also arise while abroad.
And when this happens, ACT can help show expats how they can deal with this discomfort by accepting and managing thoughts and emotions rather than fighting them, which ultimately allows them an opportunity to commit themselves fully to their goals and happiness while abroad.
Do you want to know more about ACT? Start with this YouTube channel. All its basic principles explained simply and directly by Dr. Russ Harris.
If you’re an expat who’s struggling to manage their feelings, it might be beneficial for you to know that I’m an expat psychologist who practices ACT. My experience has proven that this approach can make a difference in helping you feel more settled and content in your new home.
Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my Workshop here
Searching for useful and effective strategies? Download my 9 Tools to overcome Expat Anxiety Freebie
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By your side,
Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.