The majority of expats will feel stressed and frustrated at some point during an assignment abroad. Some may even feel like moving to the new location was a mistake — often these feelings are temporary, but they can also be a sign of expat burnout. The following tips on how to recognize and avoid expat burnout may be helpful if you are struggling with life abroad, or if you feel like you have lost your sense of purpose or motivation.
What is Expat Burnout?
Expat burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged frustration and stress resulting from transition and significant life changes. The most common symptom is frequent thoughts about returning home and concluding the time abroad as quickly as possible. A person suffering from burnout may also feel anxious, overwhelmed, tired, unmotivated, isolated, irritated, and hopeless — it can affect everyday functioning and all aspects of life.
It’s important to note that expat burnout can occur at any stage of your experience — it can happen when you’re preparing to move to another country, when you’ve just arrived and struggling to set up a new life, or when you already have an established expat life. Luckily for most, this feeling will go away, but some may suffer longer and find it more challenging to overcome.
Figuring Out the Main Source of the Problem
In tackling expat burnout, it helps to be introspective — try to identify and analyze what really bothers you and what the underlying problem is. Think about what specifically it is that you dislike about where you are — is it the new city itself? Is there something else going on that is impacting how you feel about expat life — are you struggling at work, or is your new home uncomfortable? Are you lonely? Are you feeling hampered by language barriers?
Language barriers in particular can add to feelings of alienation. It’s easy to see that if communicating in your new environment is a constant source of frustration, that that can significantly impact the quality of life. Mastering the language to a point where you feel comfortable can help overcome culture shock and alienation, as difficulties communicating with others can hinder creating connections and slow down the process of assimilation.
Once you have identified what it is that bothers you, think about if there is anything you can do to improve the situation to ensure that you make your home abroad feel like home. Also, consider how a decision to leave earlier than planned would affect your future — what would it be like to move back home, or to another place? How would your life be different, would it be better?
Understanding the Process
It’s easier to take concrete steps and build a solid foundation for the future if you keep these things in mind:
- Accept the feelings — Recognize that the uncomfortable feelings are a signal that you have stretched beyond your limits and must change something.
- Self-care is a priority — Basic self-care includes listening to your body and mind. Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed is a sign to take some time to prioritize your needs.
- Have realistic expectations — Don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself. Take back control of your life and reorganize it step by step.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself — It’s normal to have a bad day, a bad week, or a bad month, especially if you’re an expat trying to adjust to life abroad. You may encounter extremely frustrating moments as an expat, but you’ll probably experience incredibly happy moments as well. One day you may feel like wanting to pack your bags and book the next flight home, but you may see things completely differently the next day. Whenever you have a hard time, take some time to cool off. Maybe you’ll realize that you are in just the right place — the very place you need to be to grow and reach your goals.
Steps to Take to Build a Foundation for Long-Term Expat Success
Once you have gained some awareness, you can start working towards building a solid basis for your expat life. The following are deliberate things you can do to set yourself up for expat success:
Building stability and routines — Create a weekly routine that feels right for you. For a start, regularly chat with your loved ones back home. Also, plan nutritious meals for the whole week. A balanced diet will support your health and energy needs. Moreover, find continuity through some basic rituals. It can be as simple as having breakfast or coffee at the same time each day.
Physical activity to improve mood and energy — When you’re struggling with long-term stress, it can lower your immune system and impact your mood. Regular physical activity can help you fight all of these symptoms. It can be yoga, jogging, or anything that makes you feel good, energized, and optimistic. If you don’t like traditional exercise, walks are a great alternative. Being active can improve your mood and provide additional health benefits.
Surround yourself with positivity — Meeting people and making friends will help you avoid expat burnout. It helps to have positive people in your life and an environment that promotes your development. Try to resolve negative feelings and thoughts as they arise. Sometimes all it takes is seeing them from a different perspective, other times it takes digging a little deeper.
Get out of town — If you can, have a change of scenery and travel somewhere, whether it’s a brief day trip or a weeklong getaway — it might just be what you need. It can help you clear your mind and recharge your mental batteries. You can travel to a new place or to where you already have a friend or acquaintance. Seeing a familiar face can be a mood booster. You can also take a trip home if the situation allows you. Family, friends, and familiar food will be a much-needed refresher. You will probably realize whether you really want to go back home, or if you are just nostalgic.
Find time to relax — Sometimes, a little time is all you need, so set some time aside each day to relax and unwind. Do something that nurtures your soul. You can join a meditation class, find a creative hobby, read a good book — whatever works for you. Relaxing activities support your well-being, and they should be a part of your daily routine.
Explore the city — Be curious about discovering new places. Walking around your new city/town can be relaxing and fun. Try out a new cafe or restaurant, visit a museum, etc. You might discover many exciting things and refresh your outlook on expat life.
Staving off expat burnout has much to do with recognizing your needs and building a structure that supports them. Remember that you will do yourself a favor if you choose to be positive. However, it’s even more important to trust your instincts — just make sure you don’t make any rash decisions based on a temporary feeling.
Meghan Wilson is currently working as an operational manager for Transparent International NYC. Being an expat herself, she started making various helpful materials such as blogs, tutorials, and workshops for fellow expats. She strongly believes everyone can have an amazing and successful experience such as she has. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys cooking, reading, and meditation.