5 Self-Care Tips For Expats: Taking Care of Yourself Abroad
Living abroad can be life-changing and offer fantastic memories that could last a lifetime. However, the life of an expat can be challenging. Starting from before the move, all the way until settling in, an expat is met with several challenges and demands. With such challenges and demands comes effort, time and energy in order to cope with and meet these challenges head on.
What we can say for sure is that if we don’t take care of ourselves during this time, the stress will overcome our resilience and could harm us in the long term. Therefore, we need some tips and tricks under our belt in order to support ourselves better.
The Benefits of Expat Life: 6 Examples
Before getting into the specific challenges faced by expats, being an expat comes with various positives as well!
1. Cultural Awareness
One thing you are guaranteed to gain from being an expat is being aware of the new societal norms of the host country. Your eyes will open to how this country operates and what makes it tick. Learning about the new societal norms can help you positively adapt your mindset, values and beliefs closer to what you envision for yourself.
In addition, engaging yourself in the culture of another country provides the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, thus allowing you to learn more from them and broadening your cultural awareness.
2. Changing Pace
When you change countries, more often than not, the pace of life changes. You get a new sense of time and therefore a new appreciation and worth of time. Perhaps life is more fast paced, or maybe it goes more slowly than what you’re used to. Whatever the case, gaining a new sense for time reminds you of what is important in your life, what your priorities are and what you need to gain a new sense of balance.
3. Opportunity for Exploration
Moving to a new place means a new place to explore and let yourself loose in. With each place you visit, you will find another to visit, and another, and another… Visiting new places to be in and things to see is a form of enrichment to your life to help you grow and expand your horizons.
What better way to learn about a place than to experience it? As you travel, you will be able to accumulate knowledge about everything the host country has to offer. Not only will you learn about cultures and norms, but you will also be able to learn about the history of that country, the language, the many dialects, and more.
In addition, the experience of being an expat in a new place will help you learn about yourself, learn to adapt, learn to be open-minded and learn to be accepting.
5. New Connections
Leaving loved ones may be hard, but this provides a space for new people to fill during your time abroad. These new connections can come in the form of other expats, people who share the same experiences as you, or locals who help you find your way around your host country. During your time as an expat, these people will be the social support you can rely and depend on.
6. Personal Growth
Moving to a new place often provides you with the opportunity to adapt or create a new you. You are presented with a chance to strip away part of the old you that needs adjustment and make way for healthier parts of yourself.
In addition, you gain the ability to get comfortable being out of your comfort zone. This can help you realise your true potential and release yourself from the shackles you grew while in your comfort zone.
Common Challenges Faced by Expats
Like everything, there are always two sides to a coin. Having explored some of the good about being an expat, there are some challenges that can be faced.
1. Culture Shock
While learning about a new culture is insightful and eye-opening, there are bound to be some aspects that are different—and even shocking—compared to your home-country. You are no longer in your comfort zone. Your regular day-to-day tasks may no longer be possible. The ways of greetings others may have changed. The food and lifestyle is different. Regardless of the reason, the unfamiliarity may come as a surprise and cause some discomfort at first.
2. Language Barriers
This can be one of the hardest obstacles that an expat can face when abroad. Things you once thought were simple, mundane tasks are now extremely difficult. For example, something as simple as ordering a coffee at a café can be difficult, frustrating and time-consuming. Often, this can lead you to feel lost, anxious or even ostracised. This may go so far as to keep you from integrating with the locals and properly exploring what your host country has to offer.
3. Financial Concerns
There are a variety of things which require attention when being an expat: housing prices, healthcare costs, taxes, benefits, retirement, and more. Depending on the host-country, these costs can be overwhelming and difficult to manage.
In addition, different countries have different costs of living. This requires adapting. This can affect your job search, your accommodation and your day-to-day living.
4. Lack of Social Support
There’s a lot of saying goodbye as an expat. Whether it's you saying goodbye to people from back home or people from your last destination, saying goodbye to people who made your time enjoyable can be heart-breaking.
In addition, being away from people who once used to be very close to you can leave you feeling lost and alone. The decision to move away from you regular support system can create some instability and discomfort.
Also, because of cultural differences, it may be difficult to settle in and find a good set of social support. Either that, or it may take time before you are able to find one that suits your needs best.
5. Difficulty Adjusting
In the countries we are most familiar with, we tend to engage in a routine that reflects the pace of the country. When we move, we need to adapt this routine or maybe even start from scratch. This change- or need for change- often comes suddenly and can make the initial moments as an expat difficult.
Simply, self-care is doing what is necessary to promote a healthy personal wellbeing. Self-care should address various aspects of your health: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.
Self-care is taking the time to engage in activities you like and that make you feel good. Especially the type of activities that help you in the long-term, such as taking up a sport or joining a weekly class.
What isn't self-care?
Self-care is not always relaxing. While feeling relaxed is often a product of self-care, it should not be the main goal. Self-care is about doing activities that help you grow as a person and adds value to your life.
Self-care is not all about indulging yourself. While you should not feel guilty for putting yourself first, it does not mean you should waste your time or money losing control and indulging in unhealthy habits such as staying up all night or eating excessively. Once in a while is okay, but be careful not to go overboard.
Practicing Self-Care as an Expat
When we struggle to cope with feelings of being overwhelmed, it is important to set aside time to practice self-care.
5 Best Self-Care Tips for Expats
1. Get active. Moving your body is important for keeping your mind healthy. Exercise is extremely important for mental functioning and general wellbeing. Find an exercise or activity that gets you moving, but also one that you enjoy. This will help you by boosting your mood, managing stress and reducing negative experiences.
2. Be regular. Being an expat comes with a lot of work. Not only at your job, but also for settling in. At times, this can lead to self-care activities being pushed aside for more “important” tasks. View these activities as equally as important as your other tasks. This way, it falls higher up on your list of priorities. Alternatively, make “if… then…” plans to keep you on track.
3. Set boundaries. To keep yourself in check- and to prevent overindulgence- set yourself some boundaries and restrictions about how often you engage in unhealthy habits. In addition, make sure to set up some boundaries to ensure you stick to your adaptive and healthy habits.
4. Get out there. It might be a bit scary to put yourself out there and meet new people. But since we are social beings, it is important to meet people and build relationships.
5. Sleep. Don’t forget the importance of sleep. It may seem like a waste of time when you have various other tasks to do, but the effects of little sleep is detrimental to both our mental and physical health. In addition, it can impact our ability to function properly: difficulty remembering information, not being able to focus and difficulty making decisions. Try to incorporate these sleep hygiene tips into your regular routine in order to foster a healthy sleep patterns.
Being an expat is a scary but admirable thing. It takes a lot of courage to pack your bags and leave a place that you knew and felt comfortable manoeuvring in. Be proud of yourself. Be excited for yourself! Also, be patient with yourself. Over time you will find your feet. Remember to keep setting time aside for some self-care in order to gain the best you can from your experience as an expat. Take care.
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