You may be living the dream. A large home in a beautiful country, working your dream job and making a tidy packet. It may be everything you’d hoped for, but it still isn’t making you happy.
This happens to almost everyone at some point in their lives. It’s totally normal to re-evaluate your priorities as you go through life, or even to find the goal that you’ve worked so hard to achieve isn’t as satisfying as you thought it would be.Living overseas without the broad support network of home, surrounded by the pressures of living and working in a foreign culture, expats are even more susceptible to succumbing to emotional problems. An estimated 36 million people live in such conditions, and they all face an increased risk of mental health issues. One study of Americans overseas showed that three twice as many US expats showed signs of anxiety than their colleagues stateside.
If you find yourself slipping into a funk, feeling despondent with life and frustrated with the daily routine, it may be as simple as needing a change. Introducing something new to your life can reinvigorate the rest of your world.
In our hectic lives we often forgo the simple pleasures that make the biggest differences. How many times have you skipped a proper lunch break to keep working at your desk? Whatever happened to that hobby you used to love but haven’t had time for? When did you last take the time just sit and enjoy the view?
They say ‘a change is as good as a rest’, and if life is starting to lose its lustre at home or abroad, switching things up might put the sparkle back in your eyes. More often than not, these changes tip the scales of the work-life balance away from the office and back toward the things that really matter.
So if you’re an exhausted expat, and you’re overworked overseas, try these top ten tips to liven up your life abroad.
Celebrate a national holiday
Many expats do their best to fit in tothe culture in which they live. This is part of the fun of being an expat, and the best way to settle in and get ahead. Unfortunately, they often do this by abandoning their roots altogether.
If you’re living in a culture that is not your own, abandoning everything that is familiar to you and ‘going native’ can leave you feeling disorientated. You can wear the national dress and speak the language, but the emotional connections associated with food, holidays, and traditions just aren’t there.
Expats report feeling especially blue at particular times. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter are good examples; times when you’d usually get together with loved ones and celebrate with particular food, drink, songs and rituals. Being in a culture that marks holidays in different ways or not at all can be the biggest catalyst for a bout of temporary loneliness.
Take the opportunity to carve a new tradition, invite fellow expats over, and introduce local friends to your culture. You might need to adjust your recipes and hand-make decorations, but with a room full of well-fed, happy people you are going to cheer yourself up and make your home overseas feel a little more like home.
Laugh out loud
Laughter is the best medicine! Laughing at your troubles makes them smaller and more manageable, especially if laughing with a friend. Never underestimate the power of a good sense of humour. The toughest of explorers make sure they pack a good repertoire of jokes along with their boots, maps and machete, because when everything is going wrong a good laugh may be all you need to revitalise yourself and your team.
There’s a whole bundle of theories about why laughter makes us feel good, from releasing endorphins to increasing blood flow and stimulating the brain. Whatever the reason, laughter really works.
Whether you are sitting on the couch watching movies by yourself or going to a stand-up gig with friends, find a way to tickle your funny bone. It won’t solve all your problems, but it can give you a burst of energy, confidence and positivity which will surely make things easier.
It might seem like a silly thing to say to someone who is living overseas, but repack your bags and start collecting stamps in your passport. Too many expats escape the daily grind in their home nations, only to find themselves chained to their desks in another country.
You are living in another part of the world, with an exciting array of neighbouring countries nearby, just waiting for you to swing by and check them out. Australians living in London are amazed at how easy it is to spend a weekend in Berlin, Rome or Athens and how few Brits take the opportunity to explore.
If you’re working in Singapore, it’s a short hop to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Take a break from the routine you’ve established in your new home, and enjoy an exciting city break or a blissful beach holiday.
Even just spending a year abroad gives you the chance to pack in a lifetime of travelling, using your home overseas as a base. It’s a great way to shake off the pressures of work and rekindle the spirit of adventure that drew you to expat life in the first place.
It can be an overwhelming prospect to be a stranger in a strange land, unsure of language, customs and the social scene. Rather than staying cooped up indoors, take the plunge and break out of your comfort zone.
In many large cities you should be able to find an established community of expats to talk to and share the common experience of being a little lost with. Even in smaller towns you will be able to run into the occasional traveller passing through and at least enjoy being strangers together.
To really settle in and start making the place feel like home, start meeting locals. Seek out business networking events, sports clubs, cultural events and nightlife that give you the chance to meet and mingle with the locals as they go about their lives.
Rather than being a temporary visitor, feeling out of place and unwelcome, you’ll rapidly find yourself to be a settled and fully functioning member of the community.
Eat your greens
Feeling down can play havoc with your appetite. Some people turn to comfort food to conquer a case of the blues, others go completely off their food. Either way, this can have a knock-on effect on your health and certainly doesn’t help your overall mood.
At the risk of sounding like a nagging parent, we’ll remind you to eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg, eating a balanced diet of healthy, home-cooked food whenever possible. It’s not just the quality of the grub that can affect your state of mind, taking the time to cook the food yourself becomes a calming ritual to separate your busy working day from calmer time.
There are a whole host of fad diets and fabled ‘superfoods’ that will supposedly heal all your ills with one seemingly magical recipe. There’s no need to buy into these schemes, just make sure that you are getting five pieces of fresh fruit and veg a day and are controlling the amount of sugars and fat you take on board.
Drink is also a big consideration, both drinks lots of water to stay hydrated and controlling the amount of alcohol you drink. When coping with a stressful working life, it’s tempting to have a few drinks to relax at the end of the day. A few drinks occasionally will not be a problem, but too much booze will quickly affect your frame of mind.
Go back to school
Many expats are ambitious, proactive and efficient workers who are at the top of their game. Many have been offered jobs overseas because they are the undisputed experts in their field.
So what happens when you are the best at what you do? For many the feeling of being at the top of their field is daunting one: is it all downhill from here?
Beat this existential crisis by going back to school. Part-time courses at a local college or university may allow you to convert your years of experience into respected qualifications. You may also be able to expand your repertoire, taking evening classes in management or technical skills that help you keep up-to-date with developments in your field.
Of course, you may fancy a complete change from your working life. Take a class in cooking the local cuisine, learn more of the language, take up dancing, whatever stimulates your mind and gets you interested.
Heading back to school improves your self-confidence and introduces you to a whole crowd of fellow students to socialise with.
Set yourself a goal
Sometimes life overseas can feel dull and stagnant. Boredom can set in and it feels like this great, exciting opportunity has given way to a dull, mundane monotony.
By setting concrete goals you can keep yourself working toward them and have a good reason to avoid slacking off. If you want to get fit then sign up for a race, or sports competition. If you want to spend more time dancing, volunteer to perform at an event.
If you’re struggling to meet people, set small goals like ‘eat somewhere new’ or ‘visit a new part of town’ before working up to ‘talk to a stranger’.
Whatever it is that’s troubling you, give yourself lots of small, achievable goals that build up to something that you know will have solved the problem.
Do something dangerous
Obviously this doesn’t mean being reckless. Instead it means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, whether that is with public speaking, trying something new or taking on an adrenaline rush of an extreme sport.
Much like taking on a challenge, doing something you perceive as dangerous gives you a chance to prove to yourself how brave you are. This not only builds confidence but also gives an adrenaline buzz that will put a smile on your face for days to come.
Whatever your chose to do, remember that safety comes first. You just need to feel exhilarated, not stare death in the face.
The ultimate feel-good activity.
The most valuable thing a person can give it their time. If you’re struggling to make sense of life overseas, look for opportunities to volunteer. You’ll feel great for committing to help a good cause and will get to meet some inspirational people at the same time.
You don’t need to sign up to spend six months deep in the jungle, you will be able to find opportunities close to home that will fit in around your work hours.
We all know exercise is good for our bodies. Swimming, running, climbing; feel the burn, get on a sweat and get the blood pumping. It all helps keep your heart healthy and your waistline manageable.
But exercise also helps improve your frame of mind. Taking the time to work up a sweat ensures you are taking time away from the office or anything else that’s causing you stress. Exercising outdoors, running, doing yoga, surfing or just walking in the woods is a great chance to hit the reset button and let your mind process all those pesky thoughts that have been buzzing around your head all day.
Doctors not only prescribe exercise to their patients, but also use it themselves to keep mind and body healthy. “I think running really does help protect me from depression. When I don’t run regularly, I’m more prone to feeling low,” says Liz Gardiner, a GP working in the UK’s NHS who has had depression since she was a teenager.
Dr Gardiner told the NHS website that a combination of antidepressant drugs and a regime of running have helped her cope with the condition. “I’m a different person when I exercise regularly,” she said, “when I run two or three times a week, my energy and my motivation lifts. Doing exercise and keeping my body healthy keeps my spirits up.”
Build a routine that includes time set aside for exercise and activities that you enjoy. There’s no point committing to run a marathon if you hate pounding the pavements; try all sorts of sports, martial arts, and fitness clubs to see what works for you.
Do you have any tips for beating the expat blues? Share yours in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer