I am a certified therapist who helps expats facing difficulties in everyday life abroad. I graduated...
Anxiety & Expat life09 December 2013, by Somesh Valentino Curti
In my work as a psychologist in Amsterdam, I often help and support people with anxiety disorders: panic attacks, chronic agitation, stress, psycho-physical tensions, insomnia, etc.
All these conditions are becoming more and more frequent and, indeed, very present in our daily life. They are no longer alterations or disorders, but rather normal things:
› "I'm stressed out!"
› "I can’t handle it anymore!"
› "What a hectic life, always in a rush!"
› "I am completely burnt out!"
What is happening to us? Why are we living in a constant state of anxiety?
Crisis & Anxiety
Anxiety is an increasingly common experience in our society. We are frustrated by the fact that we dedicate a lot of our energy to jobs that we don’t like. And when we do like them, it seems that our effort is never enough.
Our lives are changing either too fast or not at all, despite our hard work. The possibility of a family, a career or a new job seems impossible. We have to pay exorbitant rent and, in some cases, we must save money to send support to our family and friends back home.
› "Do I have to accept that I have to do more and be paid less?"
› "Will I ever find a job that satisfies me?"
› "When will I be able to start a family and settle down?"
This insecurity creates stress and we experience an inconsistency between what we want and what society asks of us.
This is where anxiety sneaks in...
Anxiety & Expat life
Being an expat is not simple, not only because of all the practical problems that we have to face, but also because of the intensity with which we live all the emotional situations that we can get involved in: loneliness, conflicts at work or in a relationship, difficulties in adapting to a new culture, misunderstandings, fear of the future, stress, dissatisfaction, and so on.
Abroad, we don’t have our family, cultural references, favourite places and food, and a network of old friends. We miss the feeling of being psychologically and emotionally rooted in a territory. This situation can bring up emotions of isolation and loneliness. As expats, we can be more susceptible to these types of suffering.
Living abroad reveals our insecurities and fears, and we often move to another country just because we want to escape from them... Only to realise, later on, that this is not a solution, and that we took these feelings along with us in our suitcase!
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a temporary phenomenon in the psycho-physical system. It can express itself in a chronic way or can suddenly strike as a panic attack.
If it shows up in your life, it creates the urgency to take care of yourself and invites you to be more involved in what happens inside you.
Anxiety "strongly" pushes you to abandon all the old patterns (attitudes, behaviours, habits, etc.) that don’t suit you anymore, in order to make room for the new ones that are pressing to emerge.
What is important is to see that anxiety comes and goes and not to be afraid of it. In fact, the fear of fear is the first obstacle that must be removed.
Photo by Flickr user Freddie Pena
Removing the old
Imagine you are living in a house full of old objects: what would it be like? There is dust everywhere, you can hardly move, you could get injured, you can’t breathe easily...
After a while, you can’t stand it anymore (here anxiety sets in) and you want to be free of this feeling. However, the problem is not the feeling; actually, the feeling is a good thing. The real problem is all the old things you needs to remove!
In a sense, anxiety can be seen as positive, because it starts your engine, so to speak. The psyche uses the language of suffering as the only possible way to draw your attention to what is really important. Anxiety reveals an urgency. It's up to you not to let it scream for too long!
New foundation: your body
Anxiety is characterised by superficial and gasping breath, frenetic mind activity and emotional tension.
Bodywork, breathing and meditation exercises could be the beginning of a new foundation, a new grounding. These tools help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and allow energy to go flow to the lower part of your body: legs, pelvis area and belly.
New foundation: your emotions
Together with bodywork, it is important to get in touch with and express our emotions in a more intimate and conscious way.
You can do this by opening up more to the important people in your life and sharing the feelings that are hidden behind the wall of anxiety. While exploring our inner world, we can give ourselves a chance to drop our defences and open up to healing.
› Don’t be afraid of your symptoms, rather, have a look at your lifestyle and ask yourself: is there something that I can change to reduce my symptoms?
› Talk about what is happening to you with the important people in your life and describe how these symptoms make you feel.
› Train yourself to be watchful and get some distance from the anxiety you are experiencing. You are not your symptoms; fear and anxiety are just phenomena passing by.
› Go back to the body and connect with nature. When you walk, for example, bring your awareness to your feet and to your legs, relax your breath and slow down. Nothing is more important than what you need at this moment.
› If the symptoms persist and you feel you need support, therapy could be a laboratory in which you can open up and then implement the insights that you get.