Expat Anxiety. Why is it any different from “common” anxiety? Keep reading and discover the main causes of anxiety among expats and how to cope with this uncertainty state. Instead of feeling stuck and paralyzed, start to see clearly and confidently what you want for your life and take action!
The first months are rough
During my first year as an expat, I had a rough time. I always felt “on edge.” Irritable, spreading negativity -not intentionally, but it “happened.”-, demotivated and extremely lonely. My relationship – and the reason why I relocated in the first place – was being affected. I isolated myself because I was ashamed of not enjoying the wonderful and shiny life abroad. Of course, I thought everything was my fault. I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t focus. It was getting worse. Until I put a name on it. Anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
For Dr David B. Burns, one of the most well-known psychiatrists and psychotherapists of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) Anxiety is “the consequence of the perception of danger. You cannot feel anxiety if you don’t tell yourself something horrible is GOING TO happen.” It is a result of fear. If you may, it is being worried most of the time, about a specific subject and, in its most acute way, about almost everything.
Anxiety is one of the consequences of internalizing problems: taking the blame for them, attacking yourself, don’t express how you feel. This internalization can lead to loneliness, sadness, nervousness, anger and ultimately, anxiety.
A common mistake
Many people think you can only experience anxiety when you have a panic attack or when you need medication to regulate your mood. But anxiety can be with us in different ways:
- Fatigue: not sleeping well, feel unrested even if able to sleep
- Concentration problems
- Feel worried all the time for about almost everything
- Paralysis, stagnation.
Those and other signs of anxiety should be a warning for everyone!
How does Anxiety affects Expats?
Sean D. Truman and his Team conducted a study about mental health for the Truman Mobility Magazine. They found that “expatriates experienced significantly higher risk for anxiety, depression, and substance abuse problems than did their domestic counterparts.” The results also show that expats had “higher overall risk for mental health problems, including internalizing and externalizing problems, and substance use disorders.”
As expats, we continuously deal with the adaptation stress, and that demands many mental and emotional resources. Sometimes, these demands are engaging, exciting and motivating. Yet, this is quite often a source of fear, insecurity and uncertainty.
“I’m not going to adjust to this country.”; “My partner is going to leave me because he/she will not overcome the adaptation process.”; “I’ll never find a job” or; “I’ll be alone forever because I can’t find any friends/ partner in my host country”, are feeding this underlying anxiety.
Being afraid and worried all the time, can lead to some other issues, very common among people living abroad:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of self-confidence
- Low motivation
The Vulnerability of Life Abroad
Expats are a vulnerable group in terms of anxiety. Because we:
- demand a lot from ourselves
- tend to hide what’s going on to the ones we love
- feel ashamed of not enjoying the expat life as we “suppose” to
- lack a strong support network
- see how our relationship suffers
- struggle with learning a new language.
You know these challenges too!
How to Cope with Expat Anxiety
1.- First and foremost: accept you might need help.
It is not “normal” to feel unsettled and restless all the time. You are a strong, powerful and independent expat woman, but please allow yourself to feel and be vulnerable. Acknowledging the need for support and seeking help are signs of maturity and self-esteem
2.- Don’t keep it to yourself.
As I mentioned before, anxiety results from internalization. One good way to fight against this is by sharing the way you are feeling with the ones you love. And if you can, find help from someone who went through you are experiencing, like an expat psychologist – coach.
3.- Practice gratitude.
Please read this carefully: I’m NOT saying you don’t appreciate all you have. I’m sure you have plenty of things to worry about. Many of them are far for giving you joy, and that can mean you are not feeling in a grateful mood. However, this is a brain hack to put your attention on something else: in the evening, take 10 minutes and mindfully write (pen and paper if you can) three things you are grateful for on that particular day. It can be anything that brings a “thank you to your lips”: an object, a person, an experience. This practice will induce the release dopamine, and you’ll feel calmer and rewarded. Also, it will help you sleep!
4.- Deep Breaths
I know that sounds as a common place. Yet there is a scientific base for this advice.
Summarized super short and straightforward: deep breathing calms the brain and reduces your negative thoughts, stabilizes your blood pressure and stimulate the release of a soothing chemical called acetylcholine. Peace of mind comes instantly!
You can find different useful techniques of breathing; the main goal is to take control of your breath!
5.- Healthy Food and Exercise
Try reducing the intake of highly processed food as much as you can! Avoid sugar and caffeine. And of course, exercise: even a 20 minute light walk near home makes a huge difference, increasing levels of dopamine, a chemical involved in pleasure, motivation, attention and memory!
6.- Acts of kindness
Again with chemicals: by performing acts of kindness towards others – loved one and strangers- we release oxytocin, also called “the love hormone” and serotonin – a mood regulator-. That gives us a boost of energy and makes us feel good. This great sensation is also known as “helpers-high” … great name, right?
Dealing with expat anxiety and stress is not easy, but you can do it!
It might be one of the reasons you feel stuck right now. Insecure, unmotivated and even paralyzed. Don’t worry; I’m here to support you. I can help you move from this uncertainty into a thriving state, so that you can achieve your goals, improve your relationship with yourself and establish real and deep connections to others and ultimately, cherish and enjoy your life abroad!
Want more useful and effective tips? Download my 9 Tools to overcome Expat Anxiety Freebie
Do get in touch with me if you need help to navigate the challenges of your international life, I’m here for you. You are not alone!
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