As an expat it is really hard to make the expat transition, no matter how much research you have done. To use a metaphor: It’s the end of the summer season and many of us need to make the transition from holiday to work and/or school mode, from spending time out side to going back indoors.
We often expect this to happen easily and give ourselves little time and space to transition from one to the other. Treating ourselves a bit like a machine that functions seamlessly and can go effortlessly from one mode of operating to another at the press of a button. As an expat you need to be really careful to take care of your needs and not start acting like a machine. We are not machines, we are complex beings, experiencing a myriad of feelings, emotions and mental states, interconnected with others and the wider fabric of life.
When we are on holiday or on a retreat, spending time away with friends, our partner, family and children or on our own, we enter a different mode of being. Often, and ideally, we step out of daily routine and structure, out of the doing mode of mind and more into the being mode of mind, allow ourselves to plan less, to be spontaneous, to go with the flow, to play and have fun. The body, mind and heart can relax, restore and recharge.
As an expat, the first couple of months will feel like being on a holiday. But that time will pass and you will feel the dust settle at one point. How will the transition take shape for you?
Taking the time to process your expat experience
Arriving in a new country can feel very jarring if we don’t give ourselves some time and space as well as self-care and self-kindness. As human beings, we need time to process our experience, to let life flow through us, to make sense of what we’ve lived, to feel what we feel before we turn towards the next thing.
When you start a new chapter as expat, you leave so much behind, a loved one, friends or family, it can bring up feelings of low mood and sadness caused by a sense of loss and even grief at parting and something ending. Some of us find it hard to let go of precious and enjoyable time spent, want to hold on to it, resist the change, which can feel painful.
Returning, to a full work schedule in a new country, life admin, the news and social media often over-stimulates the mind and that leads to tension in the body, severe headaches and restless sleep. So pacing the information intake and workload is crucial during transitions.
Transitions as an expat, usually take between one and three months depending on your personality type and circumstances. Some of us are more adaptable than others. Try not to compare yourself to others but meet yourself exactly where you are and find out what you need to transition well.
By nature, transitions can feel a little uncomfortable because of our resistance to change but they don’t have to feel jarring or throw us into low mood or depressive states or feelings of isolation.
What are the transitions in your life?
There are big and small transitions in our life all the time. Transitioning from Sunday to Monday, from night to day, from being in connection with others to being on our own again, from being at work to being at home, from country to country, from being in nature to being in the city, from formal to informal meetings…
Here are some tips to do transitions well in your life:
1. Begin to notice transitions in your life more – the small and big ones
2. Acknowledge the feelings that come with transitions: sadness of parting and something precious ending, the joyful anticipation of a holiday, adventure, something new
3. Feel the resistance to transitioning, to change and release into the flow of life by pausing, slowing down and breathing (vs holding the breath)
4. Set realistic and manageable tasks for day 1 of any transition, for example when transitioning back to work, make sure you do tasks that don’t require major focus and concentration such as catching up with emails, admin tasks, diary management etc.
5. Take regular and short breaks throughout the day, step outside, go for a walk.
6. Practice kindness to self: ‘This is a transition day, it’s ok to take it slowly.’
7. Break down the workload, life admin, or things you want to visit / do on a holiday into manageable tasks / things so that you have a sense that you can do it vs feeling overwhelmed
8. Remember that everything changes all of the time…