October 8

5 Ways Coronavirus has Impacted Expat Mental Health (and 5 ways to cope)

Expat Counselling

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You know the Coronavirus has impacted millions of people around the world.

And you know that you might be one of the lucky ones.

But you also know that living through a pandemic as an expat hasn’t been easy.

You’ve had the same tensions that others worldwide have had to deal with, but with the added pressure of them taking place in a country that’s not your own.

Because of this, there are a couple of questions floating around your mind.

How have expats coped with the pandemic? What extra health challenges have they faced?

How did they cope?

Let me share my experience.

From talking to expats worldwide, I believe the Coronavirus has impacted expat mental health in five significant ways.

Read each of them below, and then we’ll look at ways to help you cope.

The Coronavirus has been a particularly challenging time for expats, but it’s possible to get through it intact and more robust than before.


1) Integration / Settling In

If you’ve only recently moved to a country, you may have found it challenging to settle into your new home and integrate into the local community. Even in regular times, expats are at a higher risk of loneliness and isolation than people living in their home country.

If you’ve just moved abroad, the timing could be disastrous. At the time you should be socialising, meeting locals, and building friendships, local restrictions have forced you to stay indoors. With lockdowns in full force, you cannot access support services, explore the neighbourhood, or learn the local language.

In short, integration into your new host country has been restricted or made non-existent, and you could be at high risk of loneliness and isolation.


2) Job Security / Feeling Secure

Around the world, millions of people’s jobs have been affected by the pandemic. Industries closed, businesses shifted to working at home, governments have implemented new Coronavirus health and safety measures overnight.

A survey of expats living in the Netherlands found that most respondents felt the impact of the pandemic on their lives had been significant. 30 percent worried about losing their job, 65 percent were concerned about the effects of the pandemic on their financial situation. 9 percent had lost their job already.

Worries about finances have impacted people worldwide regardless of whether they are an expat but living abroad without your local support services and welfare can add to the unease.


3) Family / Being Removed

Separation from family can be a big problem for expats. Being able to hop on a plane and come back for important events, such as marriages and birthdays, or when someone is sick, can be an essential lifeline for many expats.

Perhaps you rely on a regular vacation back home to connect with your family members and enjoy the delights of your home country. Maybe you felt the distance more acutely as friends or family members have struggled with the restrictions, and you’ve been unable to support them in the way you’d like.

Whatever your situation, you’ve likely felt the impact of being away from family and friends as an expat.


4) Travel / Getting Stuck

If you’ve been travelling the world and living as a nomad, then the closing of international borders is likely to have affected you significantly way. Or perhaps you don’t travel as much but have been trapped in one place just the same. I know of some expats who were visiting their home country when lockdowns materialised and found themselves unable to get back.

You may feel stuck and full of anguish at being forced to be in a place you don’t want to be. Even if nothing so drastic has happened to you, you may still have felt the impact of being unable to travel on vacation.

As an expat, the lack of travel has bound to have affected you in multiple ways.


5) Relationships / Surviving Change

If you’re living with your partner, then you’ve had to cope with the intensity of isolating together. Or if you’re living apart, you’ve had to cope with a prolonged separation. Either way, the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns are likely to have affected your relationship in significant ways.

If you’ve been isolating yourself with your partner, you most likely have not had the benefit of much physical and psychological space. This could have brought out your relationship strengths, but it may also have spotlighted some of your relationships weaknesses.

Regardless of the specifics of your living situation, your relationship dynamics are likely to have changed in somehow.


How to Survive the Pandemic (as an Expat)

Being an expat during a pandemic isn’t easy. Many events are out of your control, and the added pressure of distance from family and feeling trapped can significantly impact your mental health, but there are some things you can do to stay well.

  1. Focus on what you can control. Rather than worry about all the things outside your control, focus solely on things you can do. Solve one problem at a time and remember that you’ll have to do tasks differently than before.
  2. Embrace Change. Change is the one constant of nature. The pandemic is not the first crisis the world has been through, and it will not be the last. Change can be disruptive, but it often leads to greater resilience and resourcefulness.
  3. Be grateful. Try to see each challenge as an opportunity to develop a new skill. Include options in your day for treats and pleasures. Focus on what you do have and not what’s missing in your life. Use modern technology to stay in touch with friends and family.
  4. Have a daily routine. Try to keep to it as much as possible. Set regular catch-ups with others via the internet and social media. Study something new or immerse yourself in the lives of others through films and storybooks. Exercise and eat healthily.
  5. Work on your relationship. Get out some listening exercises and put aside some time to communicate with your partner. Remember to listen first and offer advice last. Understand your partners perspective and pain before you share your judgment.

The pandemic has affected expats in many ways. If you’re struggling, try the five steps above. Pick at least two of them and make a start. If you need any help or support reach out. You can book a free introductory call using my online calendar.

The pandemic has been an extraordinarily challenging time and has impacted expat mental health in many ways, but you don’t need to suffer.

It’s possible to get through the pandemic and come out bruised and battered but more robust and more resilient too.


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