Contributed by Lisa Rogers, MA, LPC, LMFT
You’ve taken the massive step of moving to an entirely new country, and everyone back home is sure you must be living the dream. So why do you feel like something’s wrong?
Expats often perceive themselves as independent people who aren’t afraid of new things. Yet, this same independence can lead to some negative emotions for those living in a new country. Expat anxiety is real, and it is much more common than you might think.
Even if you moved to a new country by choice because you very much wanted to, anxiety could rear its ugly head. Here’s what you should know about expat anxiety and the effects it can have on you.
What Is Expat Anxiety?
Expat anxiety is simply anxiety that one experiences as a result of living abroad. You might not know that you’re experiencing it at first because the signs of anxiety can start subtly. For example, perhaps you find yourself irritable and in a negative mindset when you expect to be happy in your new home.
Anxiety is triggered by fear or worry. Despite telling yourself that you have nothing to worry about, the act of being an expat is enough to trigger concerns. Will you fit in, will you be able to make friends, will you miss your old life? These uncertainties are a part of everyday life for expats, which can take a toll on your mental health.
Everyone Is Vulnerable
You may think that because you are a positive, outgoing person that you are not susceptible to anxiety. But even the most confident people can experience anxiety in their lifetime, and the likelihood of experiencing anxiety increases for expats.
Being away from your social support network of friends and family can be more challenging than you think. Minor problems can seem much more significant when you don’t have your usual support system in place to deal with them. Add in homesickness, the strain of adapting to a new culture, and possibly even having to learn a new language, and it becomes easy to find yourself overwhelmed and anxious.
Often, expats feel ashamed when they aren’t enjoying life in their new country. But, unfortunately, reality doesn’t always live up to our expectations, and we may feel guilty that we’re not happy and thriving in our new home. Some people feel like they must hide these feelings of guilt and self-doubt, which leads to deeper feelings of anxiety and possibly depression.
Signs of Anxiety
Often anxiety begins as a general feeling of unease. Perhaps you feel irritable and cranky for no apparent reason. You may start isolating yourself from friends and family. Some expats stop reaching out to their loved ones in their home country out of embarrassment or shame over not feeling as happy as they think they should.
Anxiety can easily lead to depression, especially if you ignore the warning signs. If you find yourself struggling to enjoy your new life, don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a mental health crisis to seek help. Unresolved anxiety can be damaging for your mental health and your relationships, too.
How Anxiety Hurts Expats
Unresolved anxiety can strain your relationships, especially if you don’t feel that you can talk to those around you about your feelings. And if you are the partner of an expat who is experiencing anxiety, they may feel unable to explain what they’re feeling. But keeping these feelings inside won’t help anyone.
Anxiety can also inhibit the formation of new relationships. As a result, you may feel insecure and unable to fit in with work colleagues. You may even struggle to find friends outside of work because of your anxiety, making it harder to integrate into your new country, which sets off a vicious cycle of more profound distress.
How To Overcome Expat Anxiety
Overcoming expat anxiety begins with acknowledging your feelings and then talking about them with someone you trust. Don’t expect yourself to be able to just snap out of it and recognize that things aren’t exactly as you thought they’d be.
Try reminding yourself of the reasons why you moved to the new country. For example, are there new places you can explore to rekindle your excitement of being in a new country?
Most of all, reach out to someone. If you’re married or in a relationship, explain your feelings to your partner. You may want to consider engaging in some relationship therapy to help your partner understand how you’re feeling.
Call those friends and family back home who will listen to your worries, but try to avoid the ones that will urge you to ‘just come home.’ That kind of added guilt can make your anxiety worse as it adds undue pressure on you.
Don’t Suffer Alone
Expat anxiety can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to ruin your new life. Counseling services can help with your anxiety, and you can even get online counseling from someone who understands the unique needs of the expat community.
At Lisa Rogers Counseling, I offer a wide range of therapy and mental health services for several areas. You are not alone in your struggle and neither are your loved ones. Reach out to me today to make an appointment.
I provide services in:
- Adult Therapy: Individual, Marriage, Couples
- Child Therapy: Group therapy, family therapy, social skills, play therapy
- Adolescent Therapy: Individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, substance abuse
Current services are all available via Teletherapy now during the pandemic. Contact me for more information.
[Note: This piece was originally published on Lisa’s Blog and has been re-posted with permission from the author.]
Since 1993, I have been providing a combination of all my years of training tailoring specific treatments based on the individual needs and challenges of my patients, facilitating healing. I make every effort to accommodate the busy schedules of my patients by offering evenings, weekend appointments and Telemental Health (Online Counseling-Virtual/Video Conference and Phone Sessions) offered in the following states I am licensed in: New York, California, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, and Vermont.