There are now over 66.2 million expats worldwide, and this is set to reach 87.5million by 2021. While lots of people envy the life of expats, an expat life can often be stressful and lead to a deep sense of loss. Research shows that expats are 2.5 times more likely to experience anxiety/depression than domestic workers.
In addition to the obvious challenges with the language and the cultural differences, lots of expats find the lacking of support network as their main stressor. Expats normally don’t have a support system already built in the new country, and they’ve left behind the one they had at home. Being separated from the vital support of family and friends can make the whole experience overwhelming. Although sometimes family members and friends back there are eager to support you as much as they can, the emotional difficulties that you go through may not be easy to understand by someone that never had such experience. Also in a lot cases, the last thing we would like to is to have them worry about us from the other side of the world. Support from home is limited.
Building new connections with other expats in the new destination is not easy either. Lots of expats tend to move among different jobs and cities, which makes long term stable friendship a luxury. One may invest a lot time and energy to seek for and build up a new friendship, but end up with another long distance story that fades away fast.
If luckily you have your partner relocate with you, you won’t be that lonely, but other issues may rise as well. The relationships can come under strain if a couple moves abroad for one partner’s assignment and the other has difficulty finding work in the right field. If the non-working partner has trouble making friends or finding a sense of purpose, this can make matters worse, increasing the risk of depression for both parties.
Here are some tips that may be helpful in order to maintain a good mental health abroad:
Be prepared before you go. Just 6% of expats are concerned about mental health before relocating. Do some research on the work and social culture in the new city, find ways to get useful information, resources and make friends. Also make sure you bring some familiar items from home that will bring the warm feeling with you.
Don’t overwork yourself. Expats work an average of 13.4 more hours per week than people doing similar jobs at home. Make sure you have enough time to rest so that you won’t have burn-out easily. Use your free time to socialize and do healthy activities or spend quality time with your partner (and children).
Keep making new friends. Working abroad can be isolating so making new friends is crucial. An appropriate amount of social time is good for mental health well-being. Join work events, network groups, use forums or local Apps to connect with new people. Don’t shy away.
Check in with yourself and pay more attention on your own status. It is good to learn about your own limits, the possible stressors around and about the possible triggers and warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression. It will help you know when to stop and rest and when to ask for extra professional support.
Ensure Self-care activities and set aside some time and space to slow down and reconnect to yourself. It can be a night with your favorite book or movie in your mother language or a quite morning with yoga or meditation. Anything you know that can help you restore the energy, feel stable and gain back the sense of control. Introduce them into your routine.
Find professional support. If you tried different ways to cope and you still have constant anxiety or feel low, then maybe you could use an extra hand to help. Some big cities may have counsellors that know the country well and speak your mother language. Otherwise, online counseling can be an equally good option.