No one realizes how stress can build up and there are four easy signs to help you know when you have hit the melting point of relocation stress. Tom and Elizabeth moved into the perfect home with a breath taking view overlooking the coastline of Aruba. No more cold weather, no more sitting in traffic. Six months to a year later Elizabeth began to become angry and frustrated over small things like expensive groceries and some of the strange behavior patterns she continually experienced from the locals. She began complaining and getting frustrated everyday. Tom couldn’t understand why she bothered making negative comments, after all they knew there would be some changes living on an island. One day she came home upset bursting into tears because she felt discriminated against when a store clerk mistook her for a tourist and showed very little interest in helping her and just assumed Elizabeth did not speak the local language. “I just wanted to place one order I’m tired of being treated as a foreigner. I live here but I can never feel at home here!” she sobbed. Moving abroad is not always easy as it sounds mainly because there are so many different cultural experiences everyday it can wear you down over a period of time. Somehow our happiness and new beginning can turn into stress and frustration and many people are unaware of it. Not understanding the common signs of relocation stress can lead to lengthy periods of anger, depression, anxiety and eventually everything you wanted in your new life abroad, falls apart. The good news is this every one feels this way its temporary and it does not have to happen.
The four common signs of relocation stress are caused from going through a major life transition or change making it easy to become frustrated or fall into depression. Moving abroad, getting married and having children are all major life transitions and just when you think your doing fine life has a way of turning 360 on you. “It is totally normal to feel depressed and aggravated when you go through life changing experiences,” says Sara Denman Psy.D. author of the book “This Emotional Life.”Its not easy to stay positive and flexible but by understanding what some of the common relocation stress signals are, it gives you the power to cope and change your experiences so you can make adjustments to help you enjoy your life wherever you are.”
Sign number one: Frustration over things you can not control
Getting easily frustrated, or angry about how business, government policy, or daily routine activities are organized or the lack thereof in your host country means you hit “change overload.” Change overload is simple like it sounds, to many changes all at once over an extended period of time is usually how frustration and anger build up begins. After the first three months to a year or so of being a new arrival, you start to struggle with things not quite working the way they do back in your home land you begin to notice all the differences. The electricity frequently goes out unexpectedly, nobody seems to pay any attention to rules or it takes to long to get a doctors appointment. These small negative experiences will snowball over time if you let it get out of hand. There are no two countries in the world that operate or function exactly the same, and there never will be. Don’t let yourself repeat the same wheel of frustration everyday it’s not worth the energy. Find a network of international expats in your area you can communicate with and share your experiences. It’s a good way to get an insight on how other people cope with the same frustrations you are going through. Discussing your frustrations with people in your situation, can turn your agitation into a good afternoon of laughter.
Sign number two: Disoriented, can’t find what I need
Most new expats have a hard time finding things they enjoyed back home and they feel lost, disorientated or can find their rythem they once had at home. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting your orientation to your new neighborhood worked out. Don’t worry it takes time to learn your new surroundings and you will. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few years it all depends on how much effort you put into exploring your neighborhood and beyond. Once you become acquainted with your surroundings, things wont feel so out of place.
A recent study done by the American Embassy in the Netherlands showed that 80% of the expats that lived abroad for over six years, did not miss many commercial items from their homeland. That’s because after you live in a new environment you begin to adapt to what that country has to offer and so does your taste. You may even find your favorite snack food from home does not taste as good as you thought it did.
Sign number three: Can’t find the balance between cultures.
After most of us have been around our new country for a while we begin to really open our eyes to all the differences around us and how routine life moves along. We focus to much on disappointing experiences such as terrible traffic, the city or town hall is a joke, the police are useless. You find yourself unexpectedly getting irritated over “how ridiculous this place is or people seem” but what you are actually doing is slowly rejecting the new culture you are living in. Expats experiencing culture rejection, often find others from their home country to communicate with to avoid the local population. They begin to isolate themselves and it can be anything from reading mountains of books from your home country, going online constantly, spending time with people only from your homeland or doing anything that brings you closer to home and helps you to avoid communicating with the local culture. Its OK to do this somewhat, but total isolation is a sign you have relocation stress. Find a hobby or interest in your host country that allows you to communicate or take part in your community. Joining a fitness center, volunteer in an environmental project, charity work or teaching English for example are all ways in which you can interact with people and develop friendships locally with people in your community to help ease negative thoughts or feelings that can pile up.
Sign number four: Everything works better back at home
Moving abroad changes you as a person because you have the unique experience of living between two different cultures. While some things people culturally do, like celebrating festive colorful holidays can be exciting, other things such as pushing and shoving or disrespectful nosy behavior can really be annoying. The undesirable cultural habits can often lead you to constantly making comparisons between your home country and your host country. You find yourself saying, “It was better back at home.” If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say that! “The grass is greener” it is the uttermost common thing we all do as expats and the truth is, its just disillusionment. Making cultural disillusion comparisons don’t let you see the real truth. Disillusional comparisons are bias. You have to ask yourself why did you move in the first place? I’m sure you weighed the pros and cons before you left you just forgot the positive reasons somewhere along the way.
Take regular visits home and see familiar faces and places. It brings a little bit of balance back into your life and helps you begin to see the positive realistic sides of both countries you have lived in. It takes time to process all the changes you are going through, be patient. The roller coaster you feel is normal. Every expat I know has run the gauntlet of frustration due to relocation stress. Find a support group, hobby or community activity that supports your social needs. Do not stay indoors in your new home. Visit you homeland as much as you can or encourage family and friends to visit you. It provides important emotional support. Don’t loose focus of the positive things you enjoy from your host country or be disillusioned that the grass is greener on the other side. The truth is, it’s only green in your own yard if you keep it watered.