Have you met Meg Sanity? She runs a blog of the same name about women psychology. It’s great and you should check it out. She drops the F bomb frequently, but (or should I say AND) she’s smart and she can explain super complex things so that everyone can understand them. Not only that, she will make you laugh by writing about the most difficult, darkest topics out there (depression, borderline personality disorder, PPD and others). But in a good way. She’s a clinical therapist and I was sure she’d have something to say about the less glamurous sides of the expat life. And, of course she did.
Moving to a new country can be a difficult transition. And by difficult transition, I mean that it can suck royally and not just for those moving to monarchies. So when Olga asked me to give you guys some tips on reducing anxiety during your big move, I couldn’t say, “No.” But I also wanted to share my favorite Polish joke in honor of her heritage and my husband’s nearly pure-blooded Polish self. Q: Why did Polish husband think his wife was trying to kill him? A: He found a bottle of “Polish Remover” on her dresser. (Ba dum, dum, ching.) Okay, so without further ado, here are my super helpful reduce your expat anxiety tips for moving abroad.
Learn to speak the language
1) Understanding what others are saying, and being able to read street signs, all work together to help you feel less isolated in your new digs. While you can start learning before you get there, a local language class is often a great way to connect with other new arrivals. (But save that Polish joke for class number two. Trust me on this one.
2) Have something that reminds you of “home” and take it with you.
It might be a stone, a small statue, a key, or a chair, but whatever it is, have at least one small memento that reminds you of a place you feel comfortable while you get settled in your new surroundings.
3) Anticipate and accept your fears without judgment.
Nearly everyone who moves to a new country gets nervous. You’re not a freakin’ psychopath (and if you are, my bad). Anticipate these feelings and allow yourself to have them without beating yourself up. To practice this, you might picture your thoughts on the clouds as they pass the plane window. Let them become things that just are; significant but not bothersome. If you get good at this, you can do it anytime, including Thanksgiving with the in laws (yikes). A moment of silent observation can be a great practice to reduce fear and enhance joy.
4) Find things you want to do in your new country before you even get there.
What places would you like to see? Do they have great art museums? Restaurants? Want to harass the crap out of a palace guard? Try to focus on these new adventures as often as you can and let excitement take the place of some of the anxiety.
5) Know that you will feel homesick, and that’s okay.
Have a game plan for when you start getting upset. If you like to write, keep a journal of your feelings. If talking to people at home helps you, call them or schedule times you can Skype (but pay attention if talking to them too much makes you feel worse). Maybe yoga or meditation is your thing because it makes you feel connected to your sister who used to go to class with you. Maybe reading is a comfort because you were in a book club with your mom and still plan on attending via computer. Maybe picking your nose reminds you of your brother. Whatever it is, embrace those connections to avoid feeling estranged. But connection with those nearby may also help. Which brings us to….
6) Find a local group you can join.
Because isolation is a huge predictor of depression and anxiety, connecting with others is a big deal. Do you love soccer in a way Americans just don’t get? Find a team you can play on. Can you speak the language and like books? Find a book club. There are tons of resources online, and places like Meetup.com and Facebook tend to have a variety of groups you can join in the area you are moving to. Once you find a group, you can talk to new people and make friends before you even arrive. Gotta love social media. Well, except when you have to deal with articles about what new idiot thing Kanye West did. But that’s another post.
7) Exercise (and use it to get in touch with your new city).
A daily walk might be all you need to enhance familiarity with your new surroundings and make you feel more at home while purging a few of those extra stress hormones at the same time. Plus, you can use a daily walk to practice mindfulness. Take in the beauty of your new surroundings and observe your response to this new place without judgment. Deep breaths, people. By taking care of your body, you give your brain a leg up in dealing with any stress in those early months.
8) Embrace a growth mindset and use it to reduce anxiety.
Try new things. Eat the food (even the chicken feet or bull testicles). Find at least one small way every day that you can be adventurous, even if that simply means stepping outside your comfort zone. Because in a new country, most things will be outside your comfort zone, and if you suffer from anxiety or depression, this might be even more true. Think of it as exposure therapy. Do the things that make you most nervous in your new country to reduce those fears immediately. Take the subway, get lost and find your way home, befriend a stranger. Use those fears to grow. Plus, you get to take all that growth with you when you leave. Arrive with fear leave with extra courage…and maybe a good bull testicle recipe. Bonus.
Over time you should find that your anxiety wanes as you become more connected to your new place. It doesn’t happen overnight, but being aware of your own emotional state and focusing on your progress towards comfort may help you to embrace the positives of your situation. Plus, it’s not like anyone is after you with “Polish Remover”. Sometimes it’s the little things in life.
“Megsanity” is the alias of a licensed clinical therapist who has spent the majority of the last ten years working as the Clinical Director/Vice President of Clinical Operations for a JCAHO accredited mental health facility. She needed an anonymous outlet where it was acceptable to drop the F-bomb like it’s hot, so she started Megsanity. Women, psychology and expletives, a blog that strives to promote an understanding of female psychology through recent and anthropological research, girl power, expletives, sarcasm and sexual innuendo. You can also find her on Facebook.