How to manage the added stress of COVID-19 as an expat

How to manage the added stress of COVID-19 as an expat

M. Parker Counselling has helped expat clients facilitate their self-growth since 2019. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and anthropology, as well as a master’s degree in counselling psychology.

Being an expat comes with a unique set of challenges that can make doing everyday tasks that much harder. From grocery shopping to medical care, there are cultural, linguistic and practical differences in even the smallest details, making doing some of the simplest things challenging for an expat. This can be exhausting, daunting and scary for many expats and can lead to frustration, anger and isolation.

We tend to be so hard on ourselves when it comes to the little things because we assume we should be able to do something as simple as buying the right kind of groceries without issues. But at the store we face language barriers, product differences, and other people who can make that small simple task hard.


Having highlighted the most basic of challenges of being an expat, I want to pay attention to one of the hardest; creating a social network and resources group. This can be extremely difficult to do and can a be a very discouraging and isolating affair. Making new friends, even just within the expat community, can be hard to do and draining, especially in the times we currently live in. A friend once told me “even the smallest inconveniences and challenges feel like impossibilities when you are an expat because you are out of your comfort zone”.

This is amplified by the current pandemic which leaves expats isolated from their families, unable to physically see them and unable to connect with those around them. This pandemic has created even more challenges - and added to the stress that already existed for most expats - with its added rules and barriers.

Understanding and empathy

Take the grocery store example from above and add in tension surrounding COVID-19 exposure and mask-wearing culture. The pandemic has turned one of the basic challenges an expat faces into a far more difficult one. This can be said for everything from banking to medical needs, as now most things are done without human contact and more barriers are being put up between expats and the community they are trying to immerse themselves in.

The same friend I mentioned before also happens to be an expat, and when she validated my experience it gave me relief. I felt seen and understood. Understanding and empathy are simple solutions to a very complex problem. As expats, we need to be there for each other and give each other the empathy and understanding that only another expat, also separated from their comfort zone, can possibly give. This validation is freeing and can relieve stress and frustration and, most importantly, it lowers feelings of isolation and loneliness because, as it so happens, you are not alone!

You are not alone

So many expats right now are feeling scared about how to handle COVID-19 rules and are concerned about their home countries and families. The important thing to remember is you are not alone. There is a whole community of expats out there to reach out to online in a safe way. Beyond that, there is a whole host of mental health professionals uniquely equipped to work with expats and provide them with the empathy, understanding, and validation that gives so much relief to the ever-growing stress that most expats feel in times of crisis.

To summarise, connect with those that can validate your experience and understand your crisis best, whether that be through expat groups on Facebook or a trained professional psychologist/counsellor. Seeking out this kind of help can make all the other hardships like grocery shopping and banking that much easier because when your mental health is thriving, everything else becomes more manageable.

M. Parker Counselling combines Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Schema Therapy. Her main emphasis is on fostering a trusting and safe therapeutic relationship.

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Mattaya Parker

I am a Canadian woman living abroad in the Netherlands since 2018. I did my undergraduate degree in psychology and anthropology at the University of British Columbia. I...

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