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Expats, Mental Health, and Maintaining Your Well-Being

Moving abroad can be an overwhelming experience. There are numerous factors such as paperwork, finding an apartment, finding friends, and learning to navigate your new destination that can contribute to deteriorating your mental health.

To ensure that you can make the most of the exciting journey ahead, it is very important to understand all the elements of mental health. This will help you recognize when you need to take a break or when you may need to seek professional help.

What Is Mental Health?

The definition of mental health is, “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”. In simple terms,  we have mental health, the same way we have physical health, and it can be assessed to find out if it is in a good or poor state.

However, as mental health manifests mostly within the mind, it can be difficult to measure.  

Mental Health Stigma

Mental health has been a taboo subject for a very long time and it still is in many cultures today. There are multiple factors that could have contributed to this.

For example, the way mental health is portrayed in some movies and TV series is often negative and questionable. The person suffering from a mental health disorder is usually seen as the “weak” one or represented as the villain.

This may have conditioned the majority of people to perceive mental illnesses as something negative. If you suffer from a mental health problem, you are not crazy or demonic… and you are not the only one!

Furthermore, the use of words like “mental” and “crazy” in everyday language also aid the negative stereotypes around this subject. These terms are often used to describe negative behavior or circumstances which is why we may also associate these with mental health problems.

The underlying problem is ignorance. The lack of knowledge, social conditioning, and negative stereotypes around mental health often keep people from seeking help.

This is why spreading awareness is important. It can literally save lives! With the use of social media and the internet (of course), it has become very easy to access information. You just need to ensure that you choose reliable sources (from a licensed therapist, for instance) and follow their instructions or methods to start the process of healing.

The good news is that mental health, quite recently, has become a more common topic. People have started to spread awareness on social media and are having open discussions! This is great progress. Let’s keep going!

Methods to Help Yourself

Anyone can be prone to developing a mental illness. For expats, the risk might even be a bit higher as there are many factors in expat life that can increase stress and induce overthinking.

Navigate Your To-Do-List

There are many tasks that you need to complete for a smooth moving process — paperwork, for instance. To ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed with your to-do-list, start off by prioritizing your tasks as soon as possible and setting a deadline for everything.

This will allow you to see where and how you’re using your time and most importantly get everything done. It is very satisfying to slowly cross completed tasks off your list.

Do Your Research

If you feel like you need to prepare more for the upcoming change, you can always reach out for help and advice or seek out information online. This will help you learn more about the country you are moving to and the places to visit there.

Knowing about the culture of the country as well as norms and values of people is particularly essential. Different nationalities have different customs or ways for interacting. For example, in France it is common to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.

However, this is not acceptable everywhere! That is why doing your research will also help you familiarize yourself with local customs to decrease the risk of offending someone or experiencing culture shock.

Keep a Journal  

Additionally, you can practice specific methods that will help you maintain a good mental state. One example is keeping a journal. This will allow you to release all your emotions and help you recognize your thoughts and feelings.

You can go even further, and skim through your journal at the end of the year to look for crucial thought and behavior patterns. This will help you to recognize and change things that do not serve you.

Try Meditation

Meditation is a proven method to de-stress and relax. Taking ten minutes out of your day to sit and practice mindfulness is very beneficial for your health. You will be able to focus on the present moment and rewire your brain to think positively! There’s nothing to lose.

Change the Scenery

A change of your environment can be a great way to make yourself feel better.  If you are restricted from commuting and meeting people, going for a walk every day can really help you unwind. This is particularly effective if you spend some time being surrounded by nature — a park, for instance.

Catch Up Online

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and local lockdowns, socializing with friends and family has been difficult. However, you are so fortunate to have resources and technology such as the internet to connect with people even if they aren’t in close proximity.

You can choose a day of the week that suits everyone to be your “friends and/or family day”. You can then catch up, play games, or do something else that makes you feel like you are with your loved ones. This will boost your mood and help you stay in touch with each other.

Seeking Professional Help

Prioritizing your mental health is essential! The methods above can really help with alleviating some of the stress and pressure many people, and especially expats, feel at the moment. If you tend to think a lot about the past and future, practicing these methods will also help you stay present and adopt an optimistic attitude!

However, it is still possible to develop or suffer from a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), etc. There are common symptoms that you should look out for including mood changes, loss of interest, irritability, or fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms over a longer period of time, do not hesitate to get in touch with a mental health professional.

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