What’s social anxiety in expat life? Social anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues globally. As the 3rd most prevalent disorder behind depression and alcohol abuse, it affects 12% of the population – regardless of age, race, or gender.
For expats, it can be exceptionally debilitating; because we often must adjust to a new culture, language, and social norms in our life abroad.
Understanding Social Anxiety
First, what exactly is social anxiety and what’s social anxiety in expat life?
It is the fear of social situations where one may be judged or evaluated. This can include meeting new people, talking in front of a group, or eating in public.
People with social anxiety often feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in situations involving more people, worrying that they will say something wrong or make a mistake.
As a result, they avoid these situations entirely. Or maybe try to make themselves invisible – by not speaking or trying to be as small as possible.
They are often highly self-critical and sensitive to the opinions of others, blaming themselves for any negative results in their lives.
What’s Social Anxiety in Expat Life
For expats, social anxiety can have a significant impact. When we think about what’s social anxiety in expat life we need to remember moving to a new country involves many changes and adjustments – from learning the new cultural norms and language nuances or slang terms.
Even simple things like ordering food in restaurants or meeting others for coffee may seem daunting at first.
Those who live abroad with social anxiety can perceive the challenges of expat life as opportunities for new mistakes—for example, being judged by others more harshly (or thinking you are) due to your accent or communication difficulties.
While life abroad is a rewarding experience that exposes you to many new things and people, it can also lead to isolation if left unchecked.
How to Overcome Social Anxiety in Expat Life
The good news is that social anxiety in expat life can be managed by expats feeling ready to apply some practical steps. Social anxiety tips I share with clients are:
Accept your feelings.
The first step in managing social anxiety is acknowledging it and not trying to push down or hide the emotions around it. Recognize that social anxiety is an actual condition with real symptoms.
Question your thoughts.
Many people with social anxiety have negative and unrealistic thoughts about themselves and social situations, which is why this is the second of my social anxiety tips.
Avoid thinking the worst, jumping to conclusions, or overgeneralizing by saying, “I will never get better at communicating.” When you have these thoughts, ask yourself if it’s helpful.
Talk about it
Telling someone close to you about your condition can be very helpful. It allows them to understand what you are going through and help support you.
An online psychologist for expats can be an excellent resource for this, as they can help you understand your condition and provide coping mechanisms specific to your needs.
Take a class or join a group.
Taking on new projects can be an excellent way to overcome social anxiety. Not only will it help you meet people, but it also forces you to focus your nervous energy constructively.
Avoid alcohol and drugs to cope.
Using substances such as alcohol may temporarily dull the effects of social anxiety, but they do not address the underlying cause. Over time, they may make your symptoms worse.
Identify your triggers.
Once you have accepted your social anxiety, the next step is identifying your triggers. What situations make you most anxious, and why?
Make small changes
Once you have identified a situation that makes you anxious, try making minor changes. For example, if ordering food in restaurants makes you nervous, start by writing down what you want to call on a piece of paper instead of saying it aloud.
Start by exposing yourself to small, low-stress situations. As you become more comfortable, move on to bigger challenges.
Finally, make sure to practice self-care. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising. Taking time for yourself will help you feel more relaxed and capable in social situations.
Social anxiety can be challenging to live with, especially if you are an expat. It can prevent you from meeting new people, exploring your new city or country, and achieving your goals.
Thankfully, you can manage it, one small step at a time.
With these social anxiety tips, you will be well on your way to overcoming social anxiety while living abroad, finally experiencing the adventure you initially sought.
Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my Workshop here
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By your side,
If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need.
She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 350 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.