Dear Bettina. Thank you so much for all the interesting articles on this blog. I find it very relevant, as we are an expat family. We have made a couple of moves the last in August where we moved from Europe to Asia. We have three kids and my main priority has been to integrate the family. Far to late I realized I forgot myself. We have now been here for half a year and I feel that I have not landed yet. I have suffered from anxiety and stress but have decided that now is time to "move in". I like to ask you if you have any ideas on how to move on from this point. How to adapt to and how to accept and find inner peace with this situation. I hope to hear from you and thank you so much in advance.
I am glad to hear that my articles and blog have been of inspiration to you and I am happy to offer my advise on your situation.
I think that most Expat spouses recognize your description of forgetting oneself in the process of moving to a new country, settling in the kids and setting up the house. Because we are so busy tending to the needs of our family with the excuse that “as long as they are happy I am happy” we ignore the life important safety regulation “to always secure the oxygen-mask over our own head before putting it on others”. This results in different emotional responses such as stress and anxiety as you describe it, which eventually lead to depression if you don´t take it serious.
So I suggest that you start by identifying the underlying reasons for you feeling that you haven´t “moved in”. So ask yourself the following questions:
“Did I agree to this move mostly to please my partner?”
“Did I think that moving to a different country would inject a healthy fresh start to our relationship?”
“Do I feel that I have lost touch with whom I really am and what is important in my life?”
“Do I feel lonely and disconnected from my partner?”
“Am I suppressing my feelings in order to avoid conflicts and to live up to my own and others expectations?”
“Is adapting to a new culture so overwhelming and challenging that I feel like a failure if I don’t succeed?”
“Do I feel guilty when I feel unhappy instead of feeling grateful for all the privileges that I have?”
These are just a few questions that can point you in the direction of more clarity. However we shouldn’t overlook one of the most obvious reason, which is often underestimated, and that is a natural culture shock reaction. I have listed a few guidelines to help you in the process of adapting and accepting and hope you will find some of them useful to find inner peace with your situation.
The values, social norms, and traditions in your host country may be very different from beliefs about "how things should be" back in your home country. When people move to another culture, they naturally carry their own background and life experiences with them, and this shape how they perceive and adjust to their new environment. "Culture shock" is a common experience that describes the feelings of confusion, stress and disorientation that occur when entering an unfamiliar culture. Adapting to a new culture is an ongoing process and not everyone has the same reactions to cultural adjustment and may experience the symptoms of culture shock in varying degrees, and at different times.
Strategies to Help You Cope with the Adjustment Process
Culture is relative
Culture is relative, which explains why people from different cultures may perceive the norms of the host country differently. Try to avoid labeling them as "good" or "bad" according to the culture you are from. Remember that there may be parts of a culture you dislike or disapprove of, but these are part of a broader social system, and therefore make more sense inside that system.
Be open-minded and curious
Adjusting to a new culture does not mean that you have to change your own values, but it is important to respect those of other people. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, try to think of it as a new adventure. Allow yourself to be curious about the way things are perceived and done in this new environment.
Ask for help when you need it. Asking for assistance or an explanation does not have to be considered a sign of weakness. Understanding others and making yourself understood in a new language (or context) requires lots of rephrasing, repeating and clarification.
It's ok to experience anxiety
Learning to function in a new environment is not easy. It is natural to feel anxious or frustrated sometimes. The key is to remind yourself that these feelings are normal and are likely to be situational and temporary. Take care of your physical health and be mindful about keeping a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and rest. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Being physically active can help reduce your stress level.
Seek out support from other Expats
Many Expats find it helpful to discuss their concerns with others who are going through similar transitions. Talking with others about their adjustment to the new culture can provide ideas and insights about your own experience.
The process of adjusting to a new culture requires time. It may also require a different amount of time for different areas of adjustment. Try to encourage yourself to be patient with this experience and not be overly critical of yourself.
The Online Spouse Group
Judging from the nature of your question I would suggest that you join one of my Online Spouse Groups which I am sure you would find beneficial in terms of sharing experiences, getting a deeper understanding of emotional patterns and reactions to change and building new ways of responding to any transition in your life.
All the best