A fresh new start and spectacular geography aside, did you know the darker side of expat life is: declining mental health and letting things such as self-love and boundaries slide?
In all the euphoric moments of moving abroad, it’s easy to forget that you will be separated from your emotional support system.
After all, how much can you plan for bureaucracy, culture shock, FOMO, homesickness and even the: “Go back to your own countrys”?
Of course, no one wants to think about the expat blues, but maintaining mental health is just as crucial as visa’s, jobs and everything else that comes along on the expat adventure and something to become intentional about.
Ultimately it all comes down to feeling a sense of belonging. According to famous psychologist Abraham Maslow, it’s a fundamental human need (whether you live in Malta or London). He assigned it third in his hierarchical pyramid of human needs.
When you consider that in exchange for a shiny new life, your sense of self will be sent into a spin.
Given you’re leaving behind everything you’ve ever known the expat blues are inevitable.
So besides getting in regular video chats with my tribe + family…
Here are four simple things that help me cope with the expat blues.
Laughing Away the Expat Blues Watching Comedy (slightly biased but British is best)
When you move away from everything you’ve known, call it nostalgia or whatever, but you start missing the tiniest things.
For me, it’s the British sense of humour. The cheeky chappy you bump into on the way to the tube station.
Or the witty jokes exchanged with a stranger met at the local post office, bank or any other place adulting or life administration takes you.
The other day, I visited a government office, and the exchange reminded me of Vicky Pollard’s “Computer says no!” skit!
Even though the bespectacled wooden figure behind the counter seemed less amused, it certainly gave me a giggle. Out loud.
Laughter is medicine for the soul. Even forced laughter gives your body a dose of those feel-good hormones.
Some days, you may feel like you’re living in a parallel universe somehow; comedy instantly transforms a shitty day into one to laugh at.
British stand-up is my go-to. The Ricky’s, The Russell’s, The Delboys & Rodneys and a wee funny Scottish man (whose name for the life of me, I cannot remember) to give me the dose of belly laughs otherwise lacking in my life.
Then there’s your regular British Tik Tokers, which also counts as a homesickness fix. Comedic Londoners, in particular, have become my latest guilty pleasure. And has me cackling, reminding me just how funny it is simply being human.
They also remind me that the bad days will be something to laugh about someday. Or, given that I am a writer, a possible story.
Meditating & Praying Away The Expat Blues
Nowadays, everyone’s familiar with the many benefits of meditation, slowing down and being more mindful offers.
But, between a pandemic and burnout, meditation has become a little harder to practise. Or at least it has been for me.
Some days have been a struggle to feel anything closely resembling zen much less sit in silence without feeling like I had to do something.
This is why being more mindful has been more helpful. Instead of fighting the thoughts and feelings in my body, it has been easier to acknowledge them instead.
I grew up in church, but angsty teenage years and trips to Our Price to hear the latest RnB tracks won out over what grandma called “The Word of God.”
Prayer, though, whether saying grace or being thankful, has never strayed too far away.
On the days, my heart dances to a trance beat whilst my mind tries to master the steps. Praying is my little saving grace.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am always grateful. But sometimes, my darker emotions are slightly ahead in the grand order.
Instead of expressing my thanks as the Oprah’s, Brene Browns and maybe even grandma would have me do. I find being real and speaking your truth (even if its ugly) so much more helpful.
In a divine sort of way, prayer holds space and if ever you’re struggling in the shadows, it’s surprising how the release gets you moving again.
Expat Blues 101: Know Your Worth
Grappling with culture shock and settling into a new country can dent even the most solid sense of self…
for a while.
Often, I cringe at the thought of self-promotion. But, if you’re anything like me, being too humble and/or modest can be you getting in your own damn way.
Or worse, making it easy for toxic f*ckers to devalue you and lower your self-esteem.
“Girl, know your worth. But you must find the courage to leave the table if respect is no longer being served”.
An expat once said: “If you’ve moved away to another country and started up a whole new life… you’re the shit!”
And it’s true 🙂
You need to keep your reason why at the forefront of your mind. Arm yourself with that knowledge, and don’t be afraid to use it.
Whatever your reasons for becoming an expat, it should be an adventure. It should not compromise your self-worth.
By the way, I include myself in this, but nothing outside of yourself is ever worth that.
Documenting days and journaling are things helping me remember. Oh and another thing I have been doing lately: instead of solely using your journal as a placeholder for complaint (wait…just me??)
Write down your hopes + dreams.
Start setting short goals and document the process.
Trust me when I say it’s so empowering seeing your dreams evolve in note form.
Oh, and it does wonders for your self-worth.
Dancing Away the Expat Blues with RnB
You know how they say you don’t know someone until you live with them? Well, the same applies in the case of expat life.
Visiting a country and living abroad are two entirely different things. Once you become a resident, reality bites, and you notice the potholes.
Like any new relationship, you need to find new ways to fall in love. And like any new relationship, that includes seeking out other things to make you happy.
Getting creative and sharing my experiences and musings are my go-to as seen on Girl in Malta.
My Instagram has basically become an ode to Malta. A love letter showcasing its beauty on the one hand and reminding me of all the things I love about the islands on the other.
Photography has become a hobby developed since moving here. It helps keep things fresh.
Playing tourist and seeing the country through the camera lens offers another perspective.
But it must be said… music is my one true love.
Whether it was the uplifting sounds of gospel music that filled the corners of my living years.
Or shaking my derriere to Queen Bey, music has always been an enormous influence in my life. And dancing is ancestrally ingrained within my soul.
I reckon I have a song for every occasion.
Stormzy’s “Shut Up” orrrr “Big for the Boot” works best on the idiots trying to bring you down.
The Kingdom Choir reminds me there’s “Something inside so strong”. Whilst Ms Day and Ms Monet give you that extra bounce in your step.
Whether it is the words that speak directly to the heart. The message is clear: Music has always had my back. Rising me up or like Ms Jackson said… putting me ‘Together Again.’
Going from a multicultural and characterful London to a homogenous tiny island can sometimes feel exhausting.
Some days it’s carrying the weight of blatant stops and stares. Other times, it’s micro-aggressions, unconscious bias and outright racism as casual as a hand in a pocket.
But like an antidotal gift, music lifts me from the abyss of my funk or feelings of powerlessness. Before you know it, I’m dancing away the expat blues.
Expat Blues: Know When to Seek Help
Now I know, in some parts of the world, mental illness is taboo. For some, mental health centres sometimes are more obscure than a needle in a haystack. Even so, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to seek professional help if the expat blues gets too much.
Final Thoughts on the Expat Blues
Expat blues are an inevitable part of living your adventure. Arm yourself with your why. Know your worth and get intentional with creating your emotional support!
I’ve recorded a message to leave you with. Just press play and keep living your dream (you’ve got this! ❤).