For Expats; reducing stress abroad; 5 Top Tips
Most people think of an expat’s life as completely free of any stress, and this may be true in the case of retirees, or folks who have chosen a quiet or party lifestyle, and don’t need to earn money.
But for the vast majority of expats this is not the case. Most expats go abroad to work either for multi-national corporations, foreign services offices, UN organizations or NGO’s. Or they are accompanying their spouse who is working at one of the above.
Most expats make frequent moves, sometimes as often as once every 2 years. Talk about stress! If they are parents, this means getting their children adjusted to new schools, with everything that involves.
If they are working, it means adjusting to new cultural norms and work ethics, new faces, and often a completely new job. For people working in upper management of a corporation, it sometimes involves working with people who have a completely different work ethic, and trying to explain this to a home office with expectations that can’t possibly be met.
And for non-working spouses, there are another whole set of stressors ranging from isolation to loss of identity, to missing friends and family, while trying to hold the whole thing together in order for their children and spouses to function optimally.
So what can you do to de-stress if you’re an expat and find yourself in one of the situations mentioned above? Here are my 5 Top Tips, the first 4 of which you always have with you as it involves only your body and mind, and the 5th one is widely available almost everywhere. And they also work great for kids too!
For Expats reducing stress abroad, Tip # 1: Take 10 breaths:
This is something I teach my expat counseling and coaching clients, all of whom report enormous benefit. It goes like this: Sit down in a comfortable chair with your legs uncrossed or sit on the floor cross legged, whichever is more comfortable for you. Put both hands on your belly, just below the belly button. Breathing naturally (this is NOT a deep breathing exercise), notice how when you inhale, the belly expands, and how when you exhale, it contracts. Try that for a few breaths till you get the hang of it. It’s a very subtle, yet notable sensation.
Once you have a rhythm going, try putting a count to each complete breath, including the inhale and exhale. So, it’s one, inhale/belly expands, exhale/contracts, two, inhale/expands, exhale/contracts and so on. Keep going until you reach the count of 10.
If you find your mind wandering away in thought, just gently bring it back to you belly and your breath and the count. If you lose track of the count, start over at one. At the end of the 10 breaths, you will feel a lot less stressed than when you started, I guarantee. But you do need to commit to stick with it and not hurry the process. The goal is to quiet the mind and slow down the body.
For Expats reducing stress abroad, Tip #2: Speed the body way up:
Everyone knows the benefit of exercise to relieve stress, but this one is a bit different. The next time you notice yourself feeling stressed, (most people can feel it in their shoulders or in their gut) try doing something like running up and down the stairs while counting backwards from 100 by 3’s. Really? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not. The goal is to release the energy that the stress is holding without letting the mind think about the object of your stress. How often do we go for a run or exercise, the whole time thinking about what’s stressing us out? If you don’t have stairs, you can try running or jumping jacks, anything that expends energy, while occupying the mind with counting backwards. It really works. At the end of a few minutes, both your body and mind will be exhausted, and you will be feeling stress free.
For Expats reducing stress abroad, Tip #3: Passive resistance:
This one is a whole lot easier than the last one. It simply involves either sitting or lying down, and holding a pillow against your belly. You squeeze it in as hard as you can to the count of 5, while tensing your entire body as tight as you can, then release. If you do this 10 times, you will feel infinitely more relaxed.
For Expats reducing stress abroad, Tip #4: Body Scan:
This is an exercise developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of a Mindfulness-Based program in Massachusetts in the US, for people who have suffered heart attacks. It has since been used successfully to treat every kind of stress-related disorder.
Lying down comfortably, you start with the bottom of your feet and allow yourself to become aware of every tiny sensation in your feet, toes, soles, the top of your feet and ankles, then moving up to the calves, repeating the same process. You become aware of your knees, the backs of your knees and the skin around them. You then move up to your thighs, becoming aware of the large muscles, of where the back of the thighs touches the floor, where your thighs connect to your groin. You just notice every tiny sensation that you can.
You continue up the entire body, noticing any sensation, no matter how small in the entire body, feeling your abdomen, stomach muscles, chest, shoulders, neck and head. Then you start back down the body, feeling the back of your head and neck, all the tiny vertebrae in your back, your hips, buttocks, and down the legs again to your toes.
When you’ve scanned your whole body in this way, you just notice anyplace in your body where you still may be feeling tension, and place all of your attention on this spot. You will soon notice the sensation of the tension begin to dissipate. It takes a while, and you might want to make a recording of this or find one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s tapes online, or even on YouTube. By the end of this, you’ll feel like marshmallow fluff!
For Expats reducing stress abroad, :Tip #5: Take a yoga class:
This is not original, I admit, yet it has to be included. Yoga is a wonderful way to exercise your body while at the same time relaxing your mind. And now yoga classes exist in all corners of the world, so it’s available to expats everywhere.
And if you’d like to book a free 30 minute session, go to www.expatcounselingandcoaching.com, and hit the Book a Free Session button. You’ll be contacted within 24 hours.