Expat Therapist Amsterdam, Almere and Den Haag
Expat Therapist for adaptations problems
Anxiety, depression, anger could be manifestations of moving in another country. These symptoms often causes family problems and a depressed state of mind, hence these effects are usually confused with the real cause: the adaptation process, the so called “cultural shock“.
The following extract is from the article “Are you struggling with expat cultural shock?” by Joseph Shaules, expert in cultural psychology, director of the Japan Intercultural Institute and author of the The Intercultural Mind, published by Nicholas Brealey.
Are you struggling with expat cultural shock?
Why is it that intelligent, emotionally healthy people sometimes struggle to adjust to life abroad? Cathy was a vivacious Asian-American who was excited about moving to Tokyo and confident she would adapt easily. Yet Cathy was blindsided: “I became negative and withdrawn — the complete opposite of the person I really am.”
Hasn’t today’s global society taken us beyond culture shock? As an educator who has worked with expatriates for years, the answer is clear – No. Even educated, cosmopolitan expats can be affected.
Recent advances in psychology are helping us understand why. The root of the issue lies in the unconscious – the “auto pilot” that guides you through the routines of everyday life. Your unconscious mind is highly sensitive to new patterns abroad.
There are three common reactions to going abroad: culture surprise, culture stress and culture shock.
Culture surprise refers to the wonder that comes when you notice differences in foreign places. Your unconscious is alerting your conscious mind to anomalies. Cathy noticed signs in Japanese, rice fields, plastic food in restaurant display cases. Even aspects of life abroad you think you are prepared for can be surprising. When Kentaro moved from Japan to Canada he knew it was an English-speaking country, but was unprepared for what that would feel like. Even minor differences – the portion sizes, the lack of trains – can feel quite alien.
This novelty can be exciting, but it also creates mental strain experienced as culture stress. Your mental batteries get depleted from focusing your attention and solving problems. More than exotic customs, it’s the difficulty of accomplishing everyday tasks — looking for shampoo or using a foreign ATM — that tires your mind. When Jane moved to Shanghai, she said that the bustle of the city had been exciting at first, but combined with a hunt for a simple loaf of wholemeal bread it soon made her irritable and judgmental.
Because these processes are unconscious, it is difficult to prepare. Cathy spent many hours researching her new home in Tokyo — even using Google Maps to learn the streets around her flat. “I felt like I was an expert,” she says, “but how wrong I was! Nothing had prepared me for having to try and function ‘normally’.”
You may not notice that the strain is building until you feel culture shock — a potentially powerful yet vague sense of malaise or depression. It results from the processes in your unconscious mind being overwhelmed by new patterns. Unlike culture stress, which arises out of particular situations, culture shock may seem to come out of nowhere.
Fortunately, your mental processes have lots of built-in flexibility. As you establish new routines, you get your mental autopilot back on track. Cathy found that she felt increasingly at home abroad. “When it was time to go back home,” she reports, “I was in tears at having to leave.” Until then, remember to take your time adjusting (forcing yourself to keep exploring can sometimes backfire), reach out to others if you are struggling and be mindful of the way you are feeling.
Culture shock remains with us in the 21st century because its root causes are built into the architecture of our minds. Living abroad is not simply a long holiday — it taxes mental resources. Yet it is often also a source of growth. The strains of adjustment, far from indicating a problem, are part of what makes your stay meaningful. Moving abroad is what you make of the challenges it presents.
By Joseph Shaules
Expat Therapist: the Burnout
In Expat cultural shock may cause the Burnout syndrome. The Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Consequently, as the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
As a result, the negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life.
Read my post Are you in burnout? The Burnout Test
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