There was and will be a lot of talk about the difficulties of adapting to the life abroad, about all the challenges you need to face and attitudes you need to adjust. That’s because it is true that it’s not always easy. Hearing other people’s stories about how they coped can be really helpful for new expats.
Today’s article will be a more positive one. It will introduce you to some mechanisms that our brains are using, which don’t always act in our favour. You will learn some tricks and actionable tips that can help you get moving, boost your adaptation process and put you in the right mindset to be able to cope with any difficulties that arise after moving abroad.
Look for similarities and not differences
Realizing both can be beneficial to your understanding of the new environment and customs. However, focusing on similarities in the tougher times can help put you in a more positive mindset!
Our brain is programmed to notice the differences, be vigilant to any danger and act automatically to protect us from this danger. This protection comes in various forms, for example automatic thoughts or selective attention. When we arrive to a place that we don’t know very well, our brain is in a state of readiness to immediately act when it identifies something as a danger. Anything that is different from what you know and does not classify as ‘normal’ can be interpreted as danger and activate either freeze, flight or fight responses. And as we all know – there are quite a few of those challenges that we need to deal with when arriving to a new country 🙂
When you are in the comfort zone, where things seem familiar, and where you know exactly what you’re doing – the levels of stress decrease and stand-by mode switches off. Slowly expanding this comfort zone is important and sooner or later happens rather naturally for most expats.
When you arrive to a new location, try your best to notice the similarities as this will make you feel more at ease. They may be harder to spot as it’s the differences that immediately grab your attention. Give it a try though! Maybe the way people dress is similar? Or maybe people greet the same way? Or maybe there are some shops and brands that you are familiar with already? Small things like this can make you feel more in control and prepare you to deal with the things that are indeed different. Focus on the similarities to help you deal with the differences!
Practice positive attitude
It really works! All those blog posts, motivational speakers and positive posters encouraging you to take a more positive approach to life and practice positivity and gratitude – they have a point.
Because of the fact that our brain’s primary goal is survival, not happiness, it reacts faster and stronger to negative emotions. Negative emotions suggest that something is wrong, that there was something that was identified as a danger and needs to be dealt with. It is good to think about it that way and try to understand the underlying reasons behind our negative emotions. They might not be so negative after all as they can help understand ourselves better.
Anyway – positive emotions can also be strong, but generally have a shorter life-span, meaning they are often intense, but short-lasting. Like when you laugh really hard or are proud of something you’ve achieved. If not nurtured, these feelings don’t keep us going for a long time and we go back to neutral relatively quickly, while we can go on being sad or angry for days. That’s not a rule, but a tendency. Good thing is that our brains are not static and they can be ‘rewired’, with a little bit of work and focus.
To nurture positive approach (which doesn’t mean you will not or should not be experiencing the negative emotions!), you can go on and search the internet for various gratitude exercises or simply start noticing the positive things around you. Start simple. You can even start with writing down just one thing that made you feel good today. Gratitude is a big word and it might not work for everyone, but writing things that simply made you feel good, or put a smile on your face, or were a time well-spent seems to be easier. Writing a journal, especially as an expat, is a great way to monitor your thoughts, attitudes and progress. Thanks to this and regular focus on keeping a positive mindset you will quickly see results and be able to face the challenges that may be coming your way.
Journey of adapting to the new reality can be long and full of various emotions. Allow yourself to express both types of emotions, the positive and the negative ones. Only having the full picture will give you a thorough insight into yourself. To make it sustainable though, make sure for every minute of grumpiness and venting, you will spend the same amount of time practicing the positivity. Only this will ensure a good balance and will keep you on track.
Cut the negative self-talk
When we are caught in the negativity and a bit overwhelmed by all the emotions that we are experiencing, our brain starts generating automatic thoughts to protect us and make these emotions go away as quickly as possible. The problem is – it’s not always possible to just escape the situation that is provoking those emotions.
So what can you do if the only automatic thoughts that are coming to your mind are along the lines of ‘I shouldn’t have moved abroad in the first place’, or ‘I’m just so bad at this, I can’t do it [insert anything you might be struggling with – local language, small talk, finding a job etc]’? What if these thoughts make you even more sad or angry than you were before?
You can practice rephrasing the self-talk that you are experiencing. It’s worth trying especially if you are the kind that is susceptible to the automatic thoughts and they tend to be negative and personal. Start with observing yourself for a week or two and writing down the thoughts that automatically come to your mind in stressful or challenging situations. Simply write them all down in one place, nothing else.
After those two weeks, start reflecting. What type of situation triggered this specific thought? What was the thought? How did I feel in this situation? Did the thoughts continue after the situation has passed? What were the thoughts that followed?
When you know where certain automatic thoughts come from and how they make you feel, you can continue to practice noticing them, but add another exercise to this. You can now start rephrasing them as they come in. The ‘I shouldn’t have moved abroad in the first place’ may become ‘This doesn’t seem to be working out at the moment, what can I do to make it better?’. See how this turned the self-deprecating thought into something actionable? The ‘I’m just so bad at this’ might turn into ‘I definitely need more practice and once I get it I will become better. Where can I start practicing this?’.
You may find the Move Planning Card helpful in dealing with this last point, even if you have moved already. The Move Planning Card can help you structure your thoughts and create an action plan, based on what you really want. It can help put you back on track and remind yourself about why you have moved in the first place and where to take certain steps if things are not working out. You can get access to the Move Planning Card and other expat resources by signing up to the newsletter. Apart from getting the access to these resources, by signing up you will start receiving emails with blog updates, additional expat tips and stories. Don’t miss out! 🙂
Our mindset can have a real impact on how we approach challenges. It also has a close relationship with our body and general health. We cannot ignore the impact our attitudes have on us.
I hope the above three tips can help you get into the positive mindset and this in turn will help you adapt more easily to the new city or country you have moved to. Try it for 30 days and see how you get on. It doesn’t hurt to try and it might bring something nice to your life!