Avoiding the catch-22 of expat lifestyle
What’s the best way to avoid the “expat blues”—feeling low and lonely when you first arrive in a country? Go out. Make friends. Have fun. Be as busy and committed to your social life when you leave the office as you are during the working day.
It may help your physical health as well as your emotional and mental wellbeing, according to Professor Sebastian Reiche at the University of Navarra Business School.
“Evidence suggests that loneliness and social isolation are not only psychologically uneasy states, but may likewise negatively affect one’s immunity and physical health,” says Professor Reiche.
And he warns that the “trailing spouse”—the husband or wife who follows their partner overseas—may be even more vulnerable as they’ve given up a home, network of family and friends and maybe even their own job, too.
Every missed birthday celebration, anniversary or regular night out can foster that nagging homesickness that every expat feels from time to time.
Indeed, one survey of expats this year found that “I miss my personal support network”, “I have trouble making new friends”, and “I’ve had some trouble with culture shock”, were rated among the 12 most common problems of starting a career overseas.
Another of the most common conclusions was that “moving abroad has been bad for my psychological/mental health.”
Professor Reiche urges employers who encourage staff to take posts overseas to take the question of social isolation seriously—and develop strategies to support their wellbeing.
And he points to research in the United States which found that relatively “socially-isolated” individuals were four times more likely than their more gregarious counterparts to fall ill with a cold. They were also more likely to see their cold turn into full-blown flu.
It’s a strong argument for trying to make new friends and maintain existing relationships wherever in the world your career takes you.
But there’s a catch.
A busy social life can lead to poor lifestyle habits.
For example, research in the UAE found that two out of three expats living in the country do not eat fruit or vegetables regularly. Instead they are tempted to eat out at “food courts, casual dining restaurants and quick-service outlets” rather than cooking up a fresh home-cooked meal.&
Poor diet and weight gain can lead to a variety of health risks—from obesity to type 2 diabetes, cardiac problems and high blood pressure to an increased likelihood of suffering certain types of cancer.
Avoiding the catch-22 of expat life starts before you get on the plane.
You need to try to adopt healthy eating habits before you leave with the aim of keeping them going when you arrive in your new country.
Lose the pounds before you go, and aim to keep trim as you are settling in.
Take up a sport or join a gym—and look for sports clubs and gyms in your destination country as the entrance to a new social circle outside work.
And when it comes to diet, the World Health Organisation has some general tips to help you stay well in whatever country you live.
The tips range from reducing salt and saturated fat in your diet, swapping fatty meats for leaner cuts, poultry and fish, to taking “moderate to vigorous exercise” every day.
As for alcohol, it’s pragmatic to accept that abstinence doesn’t suit everyone all the time: “WHO does not set particular limits for alcohol consumption because the evidence shows that the ideal solution for health is not to drink at all, therefore less is better.”
Avoiding that expat catch-22 comes down to balance and moderation.
Balance work and leisure; balance a social life with healthy diet. Be active and sociable, not idle and isolated.
And while starting to make new friends, don’t neglect the folks back home.
You’ll feel better for it.
Aetna / Expatica
The information included in this article is provided for information purposes only and it is not intended to constitute professional advice or replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.