How to deal with end of year celebrations amidst a pandemic.
This is a REPOST of an excellent report from Psychologist Anne-Lise who works with EXPAT.COM Anne-Lise currently heads the editorial department at Expat.com. She graduated in Psychology, has worked as a journalist and is currently completing her masters in Public Policy. She loves the beach, hiking and chasing waterfalls.
With current travel restrictions and many countries locked down a second time, many expats will have to spend the end of year alone, far from their loved ones. If you’re one of them, you might be feeling anxious or depressed by this situation. Gabriela Encina, an expat coach and psychologist, talks to us about the impact of the second lockdown on mental health and gives out some tips to get over this.
How do lockdowns affect expats differently?
Let’s start with the positive aspect: we expats are more or less “trained” to cope with difficult and unexpected situations. Moving abroad is full of exceptions, stress management, and cope with “surprises” we didn’t anticipate. And although this is an exceptional situation, somehow being an expat has armed us for this.
Also, a common challenge for us expats is maintaining the relationships in our home country. Essentially, we know how to deal with it and have more resources than people who haven’t lived away from home. We approach distance in different ways; we have integrated it into our lives, so we know e have to take the initiative if we don’t want to lose contact.
Of course, the downside of it (which is one of the main reasons we became expats) is we are being constrained to explore and enjoy our new country—the adventure part of being an expat—the unknown. Also, making new friends or dating, which is per se very challenging, feels even more like the “mount Everest” than before.
How about for the expats who might be completely alone and in lockdown during the festive season? How do they take care of their mental health?
– Try to find someone where you are to celebrate with.
Odds are if you have been residing in the place you are in for some time, you have made some connections with other people. Try to talk with them and find out what they are doing for the holidays. They might even invite you to spend time with their families, which could be a unique experience for you. It will be comforting to see a friendly face on a difficult day.
– Engage in voluntary work.
Performing acts of kindness towards others – loved one and strangers- triggers the release of oxytocin, also called “the love hormone,” and serotonin – a mood regulator-. That gives us a boost of energy and makes us feel good. I’m sure there are places near you in need of volunteers during the holiday season. This would be a great way to help others, meet new people, and tackle loneliness!
– Do something pleasant and mindful for yourself.
You know that massage or spa day you have wanted to do? Go do it! Treating yourself and taking care of yourself is a great way to cope when you’re feeling sad about missing loved ones. Self-care is always important, but it is crucial when you are trying to cope with a difficult period of being away from family. Some other self-care activities can be journaling your thoughts and feelings, taking a long walk, watching an enjoyable movie, or treating yourself to a nice dinner.
What are the consequences of so much time spent indoors, confined with limited social interaction?
The “free will” part makes all the difference. It is imposed by the outside how long and which times we are not supposed to be outside. It is entirely different if we choose to stay indoors or limit our interactions.
For example, introverts are suffering less than extroverts because they enjoy the time by themselves. Nevertheless, they don’t feel in control of when and how they can meet people if they want to.
It also depends if you live alone, with friends, with your partner, with kids. I can’t give you a standard answer for this, but I can say the mental health consequences like anxiety and depression are here, for expat and non-expats.
How about anxiety related to the spread of the disease? How do we recognise it, and how do we deal with it?
Many people think you can only experience anxiety when you have a panic attack or when you need medication to regulate your mood. But anxiety can be with us in different ways:
– Fatigue: not sleeping well, feel unrested even if able to sleep
– Concentration problems
– Feel worried all the time about almost everything
– Paralysis, stagnation.
Those and other signs of anxiety should be a warning for everyone!
How to deal with it?
– First and foremost: accept you might need help.
It is not “normal” to feel unsettled and restless all the time. You are a strong, powerful, and independent expat, but please allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Acknowledging the need for support and seeking help are signs of maturity and self-esteem.
– Don’t keep it to yourself.
One good way to fight against this is by sharing how you are feeling with the ones you love. And if you can, find help from someone who went through you are experiencing, like an expat psychologist – coach.
Do you have pieces of advice for expats who are in lockdown for the second time?
I will share two that I think are relevant to prevent significant mental health consequences:
1.- Preserve and claim your space.
If you are sharing home with someone else (whoever), keep a space just for you. I mean room and time. Your storage room. Or your car. An area where you can be alone, at least one hour.
To do whatever you like.
Allow that to the others living with you.
2.- Connect, connect, connect.
It is time to be intentional. Connection is an excellent enemy to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. I mean not just talking, but having dialogues with people who make you feel better and provide you with a strong sense of belonging. Some ideas:
– Virtual Coffee Dates every day. With people from your country of origin or your host country. Family, friends, colleagues. What about contacting this person you have been following for months on Instagram? We are all on the same boat here, and I’m pretty sure the majority of people will say yes to you.
-Virtual book/movie clubs. You will enjoy your time alone and also will be able to share that fantastic book or movie you’d love to discuss with others.
– Virtual Language Exchange. Now is the time to practice the language of the country you are currently living in. Post an ad on Social Media or ask around…You will meet new people, practise your language skills, and probably make new friends while at it.
Also, how to deal with social interaction after the lockdown?
This is new territory for mental health professionals. There are still researches in progress because the consequences of this will be studying in the next 10-20 years.
Listen to your gut and your body. Give it time. We are going through collective trauma, and like any trauma, every healing process is different. So when you feel ready to “go outside”, do it. In the meantime, you can maintain your social interactions online and progressively move them to the “real world”, when allowed.
Some expats might have to spend end of year celebrations away from their family back in their home countries unlike other years. How does one deal with this?
Unfortunately, this year, this is going to be a problem for many people throughout the world. The current pandemic has affected all forms of travel and might make it difficult or even impossible to make it to your family. Luckily there are still some ways you can connect with your loved ones! 2 examples:
– Coordinate group video chat or phone calls with family
Of course, this will not be the same as physically being there. But if you can video chat with your family, you can be a part of the conversation and activities from afar. If you cannot video chat, even getting to talk to family members on the holidays can be a great way to make it feel like you are still spending some time with them during the special day.
– Send them a letter or a care package.
Especially for the holiday season, sending a written letter (yes, like the ones from the last century! hehe) or a care package can be incredibly thoughtful and personalised. This is a great way to connect with loved ones because it will show how much you care about them even if you cannot physically be there.
– Remember, this is not forever.
It’s important to remember that you will not be away from friends and family for all holidays in the future. Being away from them is temporary, and you have many years of holidays to look forward to with them. If you can remind yourself of this, it will give you some comfort to get through the day.