From all the expectations and demands of moving to a foreign country, it’s hard to be an expat who is not high achieving so burnout in high-achieving expats is commonplace. After all, most people don’t say yes to an opportunity like this, only to live an ordinary life.
This is particularly true for those who have a career-related goal or move to a new country because they want to build a new, fulfilling life there.
Still, even those who relocate for their partner’s education or job are destined to experience many of the same pressures as other expats. But what exactly is a high-achieving expat? And where can this quality become problematic when mixed with the various challenges of expat life?
A high-achieving expat is driven by their career and personal goals.
High achieving expats have come to terms with being in a new country and have found ways to integrate themselves into their surrounding community.
All this shows itself in their actions. They are not just doing things for show; they take on heavy workloads, long hours, and business or social events because they want to. Most high-achieving expats will not let anything get in the way of their achievements – sometimes not even their personal life or wellbeing.
One helpful characteristic of most high-achieving expats is a consistently positive mindset, enabling them to overcome setbacks and see challenges as opportunities. However, continuing to push through unrealistic expectations they’ve placed on themselves and experience stress from taking on too much are likely to experience high achiever burnout.
What is expat burnout?
Expat burnout or burnout in high-achieving expats is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that arises from the stress and frustration of a significant life transition. If you’re an expat experiencing burnout or on the brink of it, you might be feeling powerless and purposeless. A few expat burnout symptoms and ways to recognize burnout include:
Frequent thoughts of returning home
Detachment and isolation
Hostility toward work
Irritability and anger
Anxiety and difficulty relaxing.
High-achieving expats are vulnerable to burnout. To be successful as an expat, one is expected to not only learn about their new culture but immerse themselves into it. This means maintaining a sense of genuine interest, curiosity, and passion in their personal and professional lives.
Having a full calendar – professional or social – may always seem like the best choice when you’re a goal-driven expat. And expats, especially those more ambitious and self-disciplined, are likely to say yes to just about everything. But the irony is that many of them who set out with the goal of cultural immersion and steadfast curiosity end up losing interest.
Recognizing the Signs of Burnout in your Expat Life
Expat burnout and high achiever burnout can negatively affect all areas of your life. One of the most prevalent things I see as an expat psychologist are high-achieving expats who feel disconnected from the people and places they tried tirelessly to connect with. Not only that, but they feel like they’ve forgotten how to rest and relax.
Many expats choose to live or work abroad because they have a clear picture in mind of what the opportunity will provide them. In other words, expats tend to be ambitious and goal-focused.
However, some will show up in their country and hit the ground running so fast that they inadvertently lose their direction.
There are many aspects of expat life where self-motivation, reliance, and discipline will prove invaluable. Nevertheless, it’s easy to lose yourself as you work persistently towards your goals – no matter how meaningful and vital. From plans to deadlines to social events, taking on too much can lead to stress and ultimately burnout.
Expatriate burnout can adversely affect your work life, personal life, and your mental health.
Coping with burnout as a high-achieving expat
Reevaluate your goals
On top of all the goals you may have laid out for yourself, expats in general face unprecedented challenges. If you are already prone to place a great deal of pressure on yourself to meet your goals, it’s hard to avoid carrying that pressure over into all areas of your life.
This is not to say expats should expect less of themselves but rather keep goals in perspective. For instance, you don’t have to learn everything about your new culture when you’re still trying to find your way around a grocery store.
Think “one thing at a time.” Expat life is an experience that should be enjoyed, not dreaded due to a mindset that holds you back. That said, make sure the goals you have are ones you want to accomplish rather than ones you feel obligated to obtain.
You can still give expat life all your effort and commitment without placing the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s essential to know the difference.
Where high-achieving expats struggle even more is when they continue to push through the burnout, believing that greater performance will help them keep up with the demands. This includes the demands of work and expat life in general, on top of the expectations they placed on themselves.
If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed or stressed, consider taking a step back. Stop saying yes to everything and take a break. Take some evenings off to disconnect from work and people and reconnect to your hobbies and passions. Slow down and remember why you came here. Never underestimate the value of self-care, which could be anything, as long as it is what’s best for you.
Know your stressors
Get familiar with the things that tend to impact you the most. Are they external stressors like language barriers? Are there situations at work or outside that often trigger a negative mindset?
The more you get in touch with your stressors, the more effectively you can learn how to cope. It helps to gain a healthy perspective and understanding of the factors you can and cannot change. An expat psychologist can help you understand the difference and teach you coping with work, personal, and cultural stressors.
Each expat experience is unique, so coping with burnout in high-achieving expats is all about taking what you need – even if it doesn’t amount to the unrealistic expectations you previously had on yourself.
Are you experiencing burnout symptoms?
Turning to self-care will help you channel your unique energy back into yourself – where it’s needed most. Meanwhile, an expat psychologist can help you get back to your goals but with a fresh perspective and healthy, realistic approaches this time around.
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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.