Are stress and anxiety necessary ingredients in an expat’s life? I suppose many expats from all over the world would answer yes; especially to the stress part. I disagree and will tell you why below. I believe that stressors are unavoidable in our expat life, but that stress and anxiety can be significantly reduced. I have linked the two words because I find that they are often used interchangeably. “I am stressed about my new job. My daughter is looking forward to going to her new school.” So first, I would like to separate these two concepts and identify the differences between them.

What is stress?

This is perhaps one of the most used words in the English language at this particular time. Stress is actually a physiological response to a perceived threat. We haven’t really come a long way as a species since the time of caveman. At that time, if a cave dweller encountered a lion in the forest, his entire body would prepare him to flee or fight. Your muscles would tense, hormones like adrenaline would be released into your body, your heart rate and blood pressure would rise, and your breathing would become shallow and rapid. This “fight or flight” response served him well. It helped him mobilize to fight the tiger or flee from it, during which time the tension that had built up in his body would be released. As soon as he was out of danger, assuming he survived, his body would return to homeostasis, its normal state.

This is exactly what still happens to us when we perceive a threat to our well-being. Except that, guess what? Our threats now rarely have to do with physical danger, so there is no way to unleash the accelerated fight or flight response in the body. Now our threats are mostly emotional or psychological. We feel threatened if we fight with our boss and we think we can be fired. Or if our child is not adjusting well to his new school, the perceived danger is that he will never be able to adjust to new situations in life. These threats exist in the mind, not in the physical world, but the body does not recognize the difference. Then the body accelerates its activity preparing for flight or fight, but liberation is not possible since there is nothing physical to do. Stress is the accumulation and accumulation of this physical tension.

How to manage stress:

You can try this for yourself. The next time you notice that you are ‘stressed’, take a look at what your shoulder muscles are doing and see how shallow your breathing has become. As an antidote, you can slow the body down by taking deep breaths or speed it up to release tension. To slow down your body, try taking about 10 breaths. We can focus our attention on the belly and notice how with each inhalation the belly expands and with the exhalation it contracts. It really doesn’t take more than about 10 of these full breaths for the body to return to its normal state. Another effective technique is to lie down or sit holding a pillow against your chest. Take a deep breath, squeeze the pillow as hard as you can for the count of four, and release. Try to do this 10 times. Or you can make a physical effort to accelerate the body and release the accumulated tension, at the same time that you occupy your mind with something that is not the object of your stress. For example, you can try going up and down the stairs 20 times, while counting down from 100 in three; 100, 97, 94, etc. go for a run or do anything else that wastes energy, while concentrating your mind on counting. Try these techniques; they are simple to do and really work. When we do not release this stored energy, our bodies can remain in a state of perpetual stress.

This leads us to anxiety:

Anxiety is often referred to as “free floating.” There are as many potentially stressful situations in our lives as expats, and the period of time between them is usually so short, that at any given moment we may not even know what is causing us stress. When this happens, we may experience floating anxiety. So the difference between stress and anxiety is this: when we experience stress and detect it early enough, we can usually identify the trigger. When we are feeling anxious, there is usually no trigger that we can identify. We simply know that we are worried, uncomfortable, and preoccupied with our thoughts.

What to do with anxiety:

The trick to dealing with anxiety is to become aware of the thoughts that concern us. One of the best kept secrets in the world is that it is not the external situation that is causing us difficulties; it is what we tell ourselves about the situation that is the problem.

I will use the example of my daughter not studying for her college exams, as that is what awaits me right now. I see that you spend a lot of time on Facebook instead of studying. I tell her something about this and we have an argument that causes her to leave the room. I’m left with an underlying feeling of unease and I’m not sure why. So I pay attention to what I have been thinking and I see that I am thinking that she will not graduate from college, she will never get a good job and she will be financially independent, and that her options in life will be limited. And furthermore, I think this is because I am a terrible mother and I have not instilled in her the proper study habits.

So what can I do? I simply have to become aware of the thoughts I have, without judging them, and then ask myself what is really true about this situation. What is the simple, naked truth at the time? What is really true is that I do not know what his life will be like in the future, and I sure do not know what his life will be like in relation to this particular exam.

Hang out in the unknown:

Turns out this is the hardest place to be; For all of us. Although we cannot contemplate the future, it seems that we are programmed to hate not knowing. I’d rather assume (until tested) that my daughter will have a difficult time in life than admit that I just don’t know and can’t know what her life will be like in the future. And of course, it can be said, but actions have consequences and lead to results. And while this is true, there are so many circumstances involved that you can never really know what will happen in the future. We can’t know anything. So we make up stories in our minds that create fear and anxiety rather than being willing to be in the unknown. We do this, I think, because admitting we don’t know requires some kind of scary detachment until we get used to it.

Letting go does not mean not acting:

I am not suggesting that we do not act. I can’t just get into bed, pick up the electric blanket, and do nothing else. (Although sometimes I would like to). I have to take the action that I feel is necessary at the moment. So I go into my daughter’s room and talk to her using the Compassionate Communication model. This involves expressing my observation of what just happened, my feelings and needs, and then making a request to him, beginning with “would you be willing …?” I tell her that when I see her on Facebook instead of studying for an upcoming exam (observation) I feel worried, because I need harmony and peace in our house. I ask her: “Would you be willing to agree to spend an hour a night on Facebook between 9 and 10 PM, after I’m done studying? She says no, that she would like to be on Facebook when she gets home. for the first time to relax, but agree to just do it for an hour. I have taken what I think is the appropriate action and I feel much lighter and relieved.

Stress and anxiety in the life of an expat:

What I have discussed so far applies to people all over the world. So how are stress and anxiety different in expat life? On the one hand, documented research has shown that major life transitions, such as the death of a spouse, divorce, a geographic move, a new job, and a new school for children, create the most stress in the workplace. life of a person. For many people, these major stressors occur rarely in their entire lives. For expats, moving and changing jobs can happen every 3-4 years! Therefore, it is imperative that we learn tools to manage stress.

We need to be particularly sensitive to what our body tells us in terms of muscle tension, shallow breathing, or “fast” energy, so that we can stop and at least do some deep breathing to relieve tension. Otherwise, the built-up stress can start to take its toll in ways like high blood pressure, overeating, or alcohol or drug abuse.

Floating anxiety tends to arise in situations where there are many unknown factors, because remember, the mind hates not knowing. For expats, there are often many unknowns in our lives, especially when we contemplate a move. We do not know what our new home will be like, if we will make friends, or if our children will adjust to their new schools. In the absence of hard data, our minds come in and create worst-case scenarios, then act as if these scenarios have already happened, and the mind is up and running. We need to be vigilant to monitor our thoughts and continually ask ourselves what is true in this situation. If you are in a state of perpetual stress and anxiety, it can be helpful to seek a professional counselor or therapist. We can’t get rid of stressors in our lives as expats, but we can learn mind and body self-control techniques, thereby reducing the negative impact of stress and anxiety in our lives.

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