Bonjour! Welcome back!
Tips on how to maintain good mental health as an expat!
Did you know that about 50% of expats suffer from anxiety or depression?
From the outside looking in, Expat life might seem like a fairy tale or a dream come true…and it is.
However, it doesn’t ALWAYS feel that way.
In 2017, I moved to France to join my now husband. It was one of the best feelings in my life, being able to FINALLY be side by side with my love after 2 years being long distance (I was in the US he was in France). It was BIG moment for us.
Going into my move, I was already very aware of the challenges that I might face. I had already experienced the difficulties that come with visa applications, and I knew there was still going to be many steps to go through after my arrival in France. I guess you can say I was mentally prepared for those things.
But there are a few things I was not prepared for…
AKA the Expat Blues: Did you know that was a thing?
Expat blues/depression is what it sounds like – feelings of severe and sustained despondency and dejection experienced while living abroad. The definition may be simple, but the nature of expat depression isn’t so cut and dry. This is because expat life comes with obvious challenges to emotional and mental health.
It’s almost guaranteed that at times and expat will feel dejection while living abroad. However, going through a period of homesickness and culture shock is natural and while difficult – it will pass.Derek Hartman
1. Find a routine that works for you
Whether you’re moving abroad to join a loved one, or you are moving abroad for school… whatever the reason may be, routine is still VERY important. During my first couple months abroad I didn’t have a job. All I had was my savings account, and a lot of free time. This was exciting because I knew I had the opportunity to explore, and take my time to get settled in without having too much on my plate.
The dangerous part about this is that too much free time in a foreign country can leave you feeling lost, lonely, and completely unmotivated after a certain amount of time has gone by.
Creating a routine became easier once I started teaching English 2 months after my move. But job or no job… building a routine that works for me, really helped me gain a sense of normalcy in what seems like a world where everything is different (France).
- Whether you need it or not: Put an alarm on everyday, even if you don’t need it. Start your day by doing something for you. I like to take my dog out, make myself coffee and write in my journal first thing in the morning.
- Create a to do list for the day
- Try to find time that allows you to go out for a walk or discover a new area in your new country/city
- Cooking. I wouldn’t say I enjoy cooking and making complex recipes everyday but I have enjoyed incorporating making new recipes into my routine each week to make cooking more exciting. This also makes me feel good and keeps me busy!
- Carve out time daily or weekly to talk to loved ones back home – this will also help bring a sense of normalcy to your day. Especially if you don’t have friends just yet.
- Spend some time learning the language- I spent a lot of time working on my French before I started working. This helped me stay busy and helped me feel more at ease when going out and doing things on my own.
These are just a few examples of what you could incorporate into your routine if you feel like you don't have enough things to do to even create a routine (been there). The overall idea is to make small daily things a little bit of a bigger deal, take your time doing them, and make them a real part of your day. FIND things to do.
It’s also very important to remember to not be too hard on yourself. If you’re working on getting your own personal routine down, and each day doesn’t go the way you planned, don’t be too hard on yourself. There is always tomorrow. (This is a mind-set that I learned while living in France- American me thought that tomorrow was too late for everything lol)
2. Don’t get too comfortable at home
When you are deep in the Expat Blues, this is definitely easier said that done.
Home is a great place, a safe place. It’s the one place where you might feel that sense of “home” or normalcy you’re missing… but you can’t let it suck you in. You really really have to force yourself to GET OUT.
This gets especially difficult during the Winter months (in Europe at least), where the skies are grey, its cold, wet and rainy outside… and it feels like theres no point of even going outside… When you feel that feeling, that’s when you have to go!
Just bundle up and go!
Since the moment I arrived in France, I was very big on not allowing myself to get too comfortable at home. If I had the free time, I’d force myself to go out for a long walk with my dog, or alone. I’d even research cool things to see or places to go and go visit them on my own if my husband was too busy.
- Get out and exercise: Join a gym (That was one of the very first things I did when I arrived in France), go for a run, a walk, find areas where you can exercise outside, join an exercise group.
- Look up places to go/things to see, visit them with someone or without someone (it’s ok to do things alone). You can also look into nearby cities, if its not too far you can take a train and go for a little solo trip!
- Treat yourself to lunch outside, or a treat from the bakery.
- Go to the park- Have a sit, people watch. Maybe it sounds creepy but I love people watching in France lol, it has helped me to understand the French body language a little more, as well as other aspects of the culture. This also gives you a great opportunity to meet new people!
3. Find, build, or become apart of a community
There are so many different ways to connect with other expats around the world. Having one person, or even an entire community of people to relate to can make the expat blues you’re feeling, feel so much better.
I started blogging a year after my move. This helped me build a community (thanks to you guys!) and I now feel less alone in my experience. Thank YOU!
- Follow other expats on Instagram/Youtube: There are a ton of other expats sharing their experiences on social media, and from my experience, we all love to connect with other expats!
- Join a facebook group! I joined Girls who love travel so I could stay up to date on places to visit near me. I am also apart of Americans in France which has a TON of great information about transitioning to France + life in France.
- And if you have a pet: I’m also apart of Paris expat dogs and cats group
- Share your story! Maybe it’s not your thing, or maybe it is… you won’t know until you try. Sharing your story gives you the opportunity to help others during their transition… this is also a great way to keep busy and help build your routine.
- Look around for expat groups in your area: You might be able to find some English speaking people near you!
- Join the Bumble BFF – this is a great way to connect and make friends in your area- This is also a great tool for meeting someone who is looking to practice english, that way you can both benefit from being able to get better at your second language!
The most important thing to remember when experiencing the expat blues is that you are not alone! Moving abroad is one of the hardest things anyone could ever do. You are brave, and fortunate to have an experience living in a foreign country. Make the best of it, no matter how much your mind is telling you to do otherwise.
Always, thank you for reading!