7 things mentally strong expats DON'T do
Expat life, however adventurous and glamorous it might sound, comes with its own package of challenges. One of the studies on expatriation I came across showed that expats were much more likely to express feelings of being trapped, isolated and depressed compared to their compatriots.
The corona crisis and its huge impact on the whole world - and in particular on people’s mobility - has not made things any easier. Mental health and mental strength are topics that should keep on being highlighted, hence this article. So, what are seven things mentally strong expats DON’T do?
1. They don’t isolate themselves
A common problem for those of us who chose to live abroad is feeling homesick. We miss our families, friends, colleagues. We miss communicating in our own language. One of our top basic human needs is connecting with others. For us expats, who are used to connecting to their loved ones through Skype, being totally pushed into online space has made things even more difficult.
Online tools, however great, will not replace a real-life (offline) human connection. To maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy mind, we need to reach out to others.
So, if you feel lonely, do not shy away from reaching out. Plan a walk in a park with a colleague or a friend. If you do not have people around you to ask, just put a shout out in one of the many Facebook expat groups.
2. They aren’t afraid to ask for help
Recognising that you might not be doing so well is not an act of weakness, on the contrary, it is an act of strength. Our main source of suffering is often rooted in the fact that we continuously compare ourselves with others. We see happy faces on social media and immediately our mind produces a thought, “Oh, she is so lucky, to …”, "Why can’t I be feeling, doing, etc.” But often what we see on the outside, does not fully match the reality. We all have our own struggles, however perfect our Facebook or Insta posts look.
Additionally, when we move and live abroad, we do not know to whom we can reach out for help. That’s why the first point is so important: building your own support network in a new country. However, even if you do not have a big, well-established one yet, asking for help when you need to should be your top priority.
Mentally strong people recognise their (temporary) feeling of anxiety, isolation, even depression, for what it is: a phase in their lives and a sign that they need to stop, take care of themselves, and reach out to others.
3. & 4. They don’t glorify their own culture and they don’t continuously complain about the locals, local food, language, weather etc.
US President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” As mentioned before, we humans love comparing. The same goes for us expats. We keep on comparing the ways things are in our home culture, to the way things are in the new one. And in the beginning, we feel like almost everything was better in our own country, although we were not aware of it when living back home. But suddenly, our doctors are smarter, the food tastes better, people are nicer, etc. We start glorifying our own culture.
However natural this is, this will eventually become a source of frustration and unhappiness. Mentally strong people recognise that things are not better there and worse here, things are just different. And the richness and challenges of expat life lie in recognising those differences and enjoying the best of what a given culture has to offer.
5. They don’t stick only to their compatriots
Embracing expat life fully means meeting people from various cultures. However natural and safe it is to stay in your circle of home-based friends, it is enriching to mingle with people from all different cultures. Sticking only to your compatriots will make it easier for you to keep on doing things the old way, keep on complaining about the local culture, etc. You could be asking yourself, so what is wrong with that?
My answer is that this will keep you in isolation and could be a source of constant irritation and frustration. Mentally strong people are open to embracing new cultures and people who do things differently.
6. They are not afraid to reinvent themselves again
Expatriation also gives us a unique chance to reinvent ourselves. Some of us left our jobs and for various reasons find ourselves asking "what now…?". With such a pace of development in the world, reinvention becomes our middle name. Reinvention can, but does not have to be limited to, a professional life. As expats, we can recognise that part of our identity linked to certain roles that we had in our old lives will cease to exist. That will leave a hole and can cause us to feel unsettled, depressed, not even realising what is happening.
Mentally strong people realise that reinvention is a part of life and grab the opportunity to ask themselves “What now?", “Who do I want to become”, “What will I focus on now?”.
7. They do not forget to spend time on self-care
With all these points, I want to end with a crucial one - self-care. This point is often swept under the carpet, being labelled as a sign of either weakness or egoism. But it is none of those. All the other points are only feasible if we take ourselves seriously.
So, figure out what is the best way to show yourself you care about yourself. How do you achieve mental peace? Do you meditate, go for a walk in nature, eat healthy, sleep in, have some alone time? Remember, you can only build mental strength when your mind is at peace. I dare say mentally strong people love themselves first - after all, you cannot pour from an empty cup.