As with most other people in the world, expats are currently subjected to the stress of managing their lives in the middle of global COVID-19 pandemic. With more lockdowns being ordered throughout the world, there is good reason for people living abroad to take active steps to protect their psychological well being.
Many of the same factors that make ordinary expat life a challenge have the potential to significantly increase the level of stress among those living abroad.
Here are a few to consider:
Social Isolation - Expats can feel a heightened sense of being alone in a foreign land when ordered to limit their exposure to the outside world due to lockdowns.
Cultural differences can be invigorating in good times, difficult to manage during bad times. This can be significantly amplified if an expat doesn't have the language skills necessary to navigate the complexities of medical information and government orders.
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As with cultural differences, unfamiliar surroundings are among the best aspects of traveling and living abroad. However, this can quickly become far less attractive during a crisis, and the global pandemic certainly qualifies as type of situation.
The uncertainty of not knowing what is happening, or going to happen, is enough to lead many of us to focus on the worst possible scenarios rather than likely outcomes.
Financial Stress - Living in a foreign country during a global pandemic can mean unexpected purchases, which can cause problems even for those of us that have a long history of careful financial planning.
Separation from family may become more of an issue. In many countries, expats know that if they return to their home countries they will be able to return to the countries they now call home.
Media overuse and/or lack of media literacy can also increase stress. The internet offers incredible access to information and convenience in communication, but it does not come without a price. Years ago, there were predictions that being able to make meaning out of all of that information was going to be a major challenge. We blew past that point a long time ago, and being inundated with all of the science, theories, rumors and misinformation related to COVID-19 is a daunting task that can become overwhelming.
So how does one go about dealing with these challenges?
Commit to maintaining a positive outlook. It may get harder and harder as the pandemic wears on, but it is always possible if you actively work to find the positive aspects of your life. Catch yourself when you dwell on the negative, and make yourself list 3 good things that happened today or that you have going for you in your life. They don't have to be big! Focus on those little victories... finding joy in such things often becomes easier during times when we realize we take a lot for granted.
Make an accurate assessment of your particular situation during the pandemic. What do you need to do to feel secure? How can you stay properly informed while avoiding overuse of media? Set a schedule for when you check in on the news and avoid it during other parts of the day.
Stay connected to others. Many of us went through the Zoom craze, but that has reportedly dwindled over the course of the last few months. If that's true, stay connected to a few loved ones any way you can - phone, email, online expat forums, etc. Whatever works for you!
Do you live in a country whose people speak a different language? Maybe now is the perfect time to buckle down and really learn or improve you language skills.
Do you have a hobby that you can try? An old one that you abandoned that you want to reimmerse yourself in once again? Great stress relievers!
Exercise! However it's possible for you to get some physical activity, you should make this a priority. Make sure you always check with your doctor before starting any new regime, but the positive impact of exercise on stress levels and mental health is well documented.
Even if you are doing well, you should be proactive in taking some of these steps to ensure you maintain both your physical and psychological well being. A little bit of commitment can
Sometimes it's not easy to evaluate all of this on your own. It's perfectly appropriate to have an expat counselor or therapist help you get through these difficult times.
Anyone who has moved abroad knows that it takes time, planning, and research. Maintaining
your well being while living requires a similar approach... just don't let it overwhelm you!