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Expat Life and Stress:
Getting Over the Anxiety of Life in a New Country

How to deal with stress factors of expatriates

Packing up and moving to the country of your dreams, either from a work or personal perspective, may be one of the most motivating, exciting decisions you can make. But it is also important to be prepared for the stress of adapting to life in a new country with different customs and perhaps, a language that may take time to comprehend and speak with fluency. The good news is that the stress and anxiety you may encounter, is most likely to be temporary and short-lived. Human beings are resilient and tend to adapt to their surrounds as soon as they build a social circle in which they feel supported and understood.

Life of an expat can be stressful early on
When you decide to expatriate, to live and work in another country, be prepared to take some time
to adapt to your new life in another country.

There are a number of stress factors that you will enounter in your expatriate living. Follow these tips and adjusting to life in a new country will be a breeze:

Research on life in your new country

Find out (from your embassy or the local government) about legal obligations. One of the first things you should do is hire a lawyer/ financial advisor to ensure you comply with legal requirements. Tax for residents varies greatly from country to country. In some countries (such as Spain), failing to declare foreign assets can result in hefty fines. Don’t allow ignorance of the law to expose you to unnecessary economic loss. In fact, even before you purchase a home or change your residency, you should already be aware of how tax and other legal and financial obligations differ from the laws in your country.

Accept that change can be stressful

It does little good to deny emotions that are there for a purpose. Emotions such as fear, curiosity, elation, disappointment, can all co-exist but it is important to acknowledge each of these emotions, without allowing them to take over and lead us to a state of anxiety. Mindfulness meditation is an excellent way to identify and allow difficult emotions to exist and ‘wash over us’, without allowing them to lead us to obsessive thought or negative actions.

Learn relaxation techniques

Two of the most efficient relaxation techniques are controlled (or abdominal breathing) and progressive muscle relaxation. There are a host of free apps and websites showing you how to perform both. Controlled breathing involves expanding the abdominal area as you inhale, taking a long time to breathe in but an ever longer time to breathe out. Taking deep breaths and doing breathing exercises has been found to lower the heart rate instantly, which makes it a first line technique to stop an anxiety attack in its tracks. Progressive muscle relaxation, meanwhile, involves tensing then relaxing as many muscles in your body as you can – starting from the toes and working your way up to the head.

From the outset, build a social network

If you have made the move because of work, avail of any social opportunities offered by the company you work in. If you are retired, check out local volunteer groups and go online to discover any expat groups in your area. Expats are usually very active in various realms, including charity/fundraising, which is a great way to meet others while contributing to a good cause.

Socialize with locals in your new country
One of the best ways to adapt to your expat living is to get to know the locals and form social alliances,
which can be useful for you personally and professionally.

Learn the language of the country you are moving to

While expats often find other English speakers to socialize with, they sometimes don’t make a big enough effort to learn the local language. Sometimes it’s because of a fear of failing at language learning, others because they feel they can get by without it. Refusing to learn the local language can be very limiting, however, since it can prevent you from getting to know the culture in a more profound manner. It can also stop you from making friends with locals, which can be frustrating, especially when you meet someone friendly and interesting and you can’t take the relationship further because of a communication block. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier and you are in the very best place to learn a foreign language – in a new country!

Enjoy the difference

Explore your new country and allow yourself to become enamored by the sights, sounds and flavors you encounter. Take part in local festivities, savor (and learn to prepare) local dishes and spend as much time outdoors as you can. The happier and more at home you feel, the less likely you are to worry about adapting; just get to it and think about it a little less.

With time you will find that expatriates stress factors dissipate, as you begin to better adjust to a new life in your new country and start to enjoy it more.

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Carl Menger - the founder of the Austrian school of economics