A Practical Guide to Looking After Your Mental Health
Global movement has certainly taken a hit since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it hasn’t died out altogether.
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Understandably, these strict rules have made the process of returning home a lot more stressful.
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This can be harder to manage than other concerns, as it’s often born out of a long-standing phobia.
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If you are needing to move in the coming months, be sure to keep all of the following advice in mind.
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Living overseas has a wealth of benefits. Whether it’s immersing yourself in a totally new culture, exploring opportunities which aren’t available in your homeland, or even just making a whole crop of new friends, there are plenty of reasons to relocate abroad.
But sometimes – whether it be for practical or emotional reasons – the time may come for you to return to your homeland. The thought of uprooting your entire life (for a second time) is probably a stressful one. There are so many considerations which need to be taken into account. What’s more, it will probably have an impact on your mental health.
If you’re worried about how you’re going to manage moving home from abroad, we’re here to help. Read our handy guide to discover what expats can do to stay on top of their mental health, as they make the potentially difficult decision of returning home from a life abroad.
Global movement has certainly taken a hit since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it hasn’t died out altogether. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key statistics which really exemplify the state of it in 2021.
The EU would perhaps exemplify the dip in movement best, with their figures highlighting a decrease of 33% from the previous year. Their asylum applications fell from pre-coronavirus times to just 390,000. Pending cases also dropped, with 786,000 registered at the end of October 2020 – a 15% reduction from that same point in 2019.
This trend wasn’t isolated to Europe though, with figures showing that visas and residence permits issued by OECD countries had fallen by 46% across the first six months of 2020. Their year-on-year numbers showed a steep decline from the point at which the pandemic began:
It wasn’t just those looking to start a new life elsewhere who changed their plans. By February of 2021, a number of countries had seen a mass influx of migrant workers returning to their homeland. Some of the nations which saw the highest rates of return included:
Looking closely at the numbers of a single country, the UK perhaps best exemplified the impact COVID-19 had on global movement.
There were 18m arrivals (including UK residents) by the end of March 2021. And while that number might seem a lot, it’s actually an overall decrease of 87% from the previous year – dropping by a staggering 123.2m visitors, returning residents or immigrants.
In the case of visas (668,979 granted in total), figures were much the same – with a 78% drop-off from the same period the previous year. When it came to applications, the majority were for studying purposes:
To reunite with family
For other reasons
Perhaps most significantly of all, figures from the UN now show that the growth in international migrants has halted and regressed as a result of the pandemic. It is thought international migration has reduced by as much as 27% of the expected growth at the end of 2019.
Just how much of an impact this is going to have on migration heading forwards is unclear. With new rules and restrictions in place in almost every country, it may be some time before rates of movement return to normal.
Understandably, these strict rules have made the process of returning home a lot more stressful. It’s only natural that you might feel anxious or unsure about your return given there’s so much additional information which needs to be taken into account.
Poor mental health can be triggered by a number of different factors. Some of these are commonly associated with travelling. Those that you might need to watch out for include things like:
Separation from those you’re closest to. Being apart from your friends and family, even for a short time, can be challenging. If the shock of being in a totally new culture wasn’t already enough, losing the bubble you’ve become familiar with can serve to compound that issue. You’re leaving the bubble you made abroad, and returning to a totally “new” place. That’s scary.
Disruption of your normal schedule. If you’re someone who likes their routine, packing up your life and starting over could leave you a little lost. In extreme cases this can have a negative impact on your overall mental health levels.
Physical health while travelling. It’s not totally uncommon for someone to pick up a bug when they travel. Whether it’s because it affects your return, or just the unpleasant feeling of your condition, this can also contribute to a bad mental state.
Lack of sleep owing to time zone changes. After you’ve returned, your sleep pattern can take a real hit if you’ve been living in a country in a very different time zone. This can leave you feeling fatigued, irritated and stressed.
Keeping these factors in mind before you travel gives you the chance to prepare for the worst and combat it if it does happen.
If you’re moving back to your homeland after a long time away, it could be the case that you don’t have the same level of social connection you enjoyed as an expat. If that’s the case, it’s only natural to feel a sense of loneliness, and even isolation.
If you find yourself in that position, these are some of the best coping methods and means of changing your circumstances:
Join a club. Joining an organisation of like-minded people is a great opportunity for you to combat any feelings of isolation. Not only does it give you the chance to naturally interact with others, but there’s also a good chance you’ll share similar interests.
Strengthen current bonds. If you’re fortunate enough to have friends or family in the country you’ve returned to, make extra effort to talk to them. While you should never force a friendship which isn’t working, you might discover you gel a lot more with a particular person than you ever realised.
Volunteer. Getting involved in this kind of activity is not only a great way to get out and see more faces, but can also be incredibly rewarding. You’re likely to feel a strong sense of fulfilment as a result of the gratitude those you’re volunteering with exhibit.
Talk online. If you don’t feel totally comfortable leaving the house and meeting people face-to-face, you can use online forums and social media platforms to find like-minded people. Make sure to keep personal information private, but don’t be afraid to reach out and discuss how you’re feeling with people in the same boat as you.
We all know just how alienating a completely foreign culture can be – but how many of us consider the impacts of reverse-culture shock? This strange feeling can occur once the initial excitement of returning home wears off, and you suddenly find yourself feeling out of touch with your native country.
Some of the most common causes of this phenomenon include:
Luckily, there are a variety of ways to get face reverse-culture shock head-on, and beat it:
Share how you feel. There’s a good chance you’ll want to keep these feelings to yourself – especially as you might dismiss them as “unimportant” to your loved ones. Even though they may not understand exactly how you’re feeling, those close to you will do what they can to help if you’re struggling. Remember to be honest and open with them.
Stay true to your international self. If you’ve picked up habits or mannerisms which don’t necessarily fit in with “the norm”, it shouldn’t mean you have to change your behaviour in order to feel accepted. Remember that you’re in a different country, but never betray yourself by acting fake.
Seek professional training opportunities. If reverse-culture shock has hit you more in a professional than personal sense, think about exploring options which help you settle back into working life. Every corner of the globe has different customs. Having a refresher course could be very important if you feel like you’re struggling.
Depression is an increasingly common problem for anyone going through a tough transitional period returning home. This condition can be debilitating, leaving someone feeling unable to do the simplest of tasks or chores around the house.
You should always seek professional help if you’re having these kinds of feelings. For immediate management of the situation, the NHS suggest these tactics:
Be more active. Exercise releases endorphins, which trigger feelings of positivity in the brain. This is one of the best remedies for any kind of depression, as it’s something you can actively control – as well as providing a series of benefits for your overall physical health as well.
Steer clear of depressants. Depressants are drugs which lower neurotransmission levels. The most commonly used of these is alcohol. While it might feel like a good idea (especially as you can receive a temporary euphoria), the long-term impact of this kind of substance can actually make you feel much worse emotionally.
Keep a routine. Having a steady routine in place when you return home can be good for both practical and emotional reasons. It can help to regulate your sleep, ensuring you get enough to tackle what the day throws at you. Eating at set times, and dedicating certain periods of the day to fun and leisure can also help.
Eat a healthy diet. It’s common when feeling low to either binge on food or lose your appetite altogether. Neither is good for your physical or mental health. This can be particularly hard to manage if you’re on medication. Always be sure to talk to a doctor about any issues you’re having with your diet.
Arriving home might be an exciting feeling – but what comes next? It may be the case that you’re not sure just how to fully immerse yourself in the culture of your homeland again. If that’s the case, follow this advice:
Be proactive with friends and family. Don’t sit around and wait for people to get in touch with you. Take the first step by reaching out and asking to meet up with people you know. You have to remember that people have had entire lives set up without you in it (regularly) anymore. That means you might need to be proactive and plan things well in advance to make sure they have time for you – at least for the first month or so.
Blend old and new. Just because you’ve returned to your homeland doesn’t mean you need to instantly pick back up where you left off. Make sure to do the things you enjoyed before, but don’t be afraid to try new things as well. You aren’t the exact same person you were when you left, so it’s only natural your life will be different now.
Prepare for a culture shock. We’ve already discussed the impact reverse-culture shock can have. Try pre-empting this by working out what kinds of things are likely to be different between your old and new home. For example, dinner might be slightly earlier or later on average, or shop opening times could be a little off from what you’re used to. The more you know, the easier it’ll be to adjust.
Even without the inevitable stress of COVID-19, for some there’s the additional worry that comes with any long-distance travel. This can be harder to manage than other concerns, as it’s often born out of a long-standing phobia.
There’s no one way to totally get over the fear of flying in a plane (or any other long form of transport). But there are steps which can help to better manage how you react in certain situations:
Remember this is just fear. It’s okay to feel scared. In fact, it’s a large part of what makes us feel human. But the trick is to remember that fear and danger are two very different things – even if one is associated closely with the other.
Sometimes we are fearful because we are genuinely in immediate danger. But if you have a phobia, it can be helpful to remember that while you feel incredibly uncomfortable, you are not actually at high risk of any harm. This in itself can actually be something of a comforting thought.
Do some research. It might sound like it could scare you more, but in reality researching something like air crashes would actually highlight just how safe this form of travel is. For example, did you know you are actually 19 times safer every time you get in a plane than you are every time you get inside your own car?
Understand turbulence. Nobody likes the bumpiness which is associated with turbulence. This can occur in a plane at high altitudes, or even in choppy waters out at sea. It’s unlike anything you’d normally feel in a car, so it can be a little unnerving. The key here is to remember that your mode of transport has been specially designed to accommodate for and manage this kind of motion.
Tell people around you. If you are not confident in your abilities to handle the situation, be sure to politely let staff and people around you know that you aren’t a fan of this type of transport. This precautionary warning will make it easier for them to understand and help you in the event of you having any form of anxiety or panic attack.
Sometimes there doesn’t have to be a specific reason someone feels anxious. If you suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), something as eventful as returning home from abroad can serve as a major trigger. If you’re struggling, be sure to keep this handy advice in mind:
Deep breathing exercises. This is a tried-and-tested method for dealing with anxiety, or any form of nervous stress. The recommended process for carrying this out is to:
This technique has been proven to greatly reduce stress in moments of extreme pressure, such as giving an important speech or when you’re about to take an exam.
The 5 senses grounding technique. This mechanism focuses on taking your mind away from the thing which is troubling you. Using each of the 5 senses (touch, smell, hearing, sight and even taste), turn your attention towards something else in the room around you. For example, that could be:
Your mind is now focused on something totally random, helping you to alleviate any stress you may have been feeling.
Mental reframing. Sometimes, people with anxiety disorder can look at a subject and view it in a very negative light – making their condition much worse. Mental reframing takes a negative situation and puts a positive spin on it. This would work in the following way:
Twisting your thoughts to be more positive can have a fantastic impact on your mental state.
Radical acceptance. This more extreme form of coping relies on accepting that something bad could happen, and then preparing for that scenario – however unlikely it may be. This should probably only be used as a last resort, as it could theoretically make you feel quite anxious in the short term.
While it might not be the ideal time to pack up your life and make the move back to the UK, it could be that it’s unavoidable. If you are needing to move in the coming months, be sure to keep all of the following advice in mind..
One of the biggest stresses associated with moving, regardless of where from, is packing up all of your belongings and transporting them. While this might sound like a massive challenge on paper, It’s not as daunting as it may initially seem. Follow this advice to make the whole process as seamless as possible:
Work out what you actually need. Not every possession needs to be brought back with you. In some cases, such as with larger furniture or televisions, it might not even be practical to bring it along. Make a checklist of everything you do and don’t need well ahead of time.
Donating what you don’t need. If you know what you are and aren’t going to be taking with you, think about donating it to those who might need it more than yourself. Every country will have clothes banks where you can take unwanted items, while things like furniture can also be of use to nursing homes and shelters. With electrical items, it would make sense to sell what you can’t use and reinvest in new products.
Organising your items. Break down what is going to be transported together, how you want it to be moved, and what kind of storage unit is going to be needed to ensure it doesn’t get damaged. Try to keep things which go in the same rooms of the house together.
Find a reliable moving service. If the thought of moving your entire life seems a bit too much, you can always turn to a professional removals service to help you quickly and affordably relocate. This is a fantastic option for anyone wanting to focus on their next steps, rather than the move itself.
There are a lot of financial considerations which need to be taken into account when upping sticks. These can become something of a burden if they’re thought about as a chore to be tackled. But when you break down what each entails, they’re a little easier to deal with.
Understand tax. Tax isn’t something you want to get wrong. Make sure you understand how much you have to pay and when. If you’re still a citizen in more than one country, you might also need to work out whether or not you benefit from double taxation treaties or not.
Pensions and retirement. There are a number of state and private pension schemes which you’ll need to do research into. Find what works for you, then discover if you can protect your pension from the country you’re leaving.
Getting a financial advisor. If you’re really struggling to wrap your head around what needs to be done to stay financially safe, it’s worth reaching out and talking to a professional. While you’ll have to pay a flat fee upfront, this could save you thousands in the long run.
Moving your kids out of an environment they trust and are familiar with can be challenging. But, if it’s the right decision for all of you, it might be something you’re forced to face up to. If that’s the case for you, keep these tips in mind to make your child’s relocation that little bit easier:
Be sure to explain everything. Children might not have a full understanding of the world the same way an adult does, but they are also incredibly perceptive. Giving them all the information (tailored to their ears) will help them to process everything that’s happening.
Encourage them to keep in contact with friends. If they’re old enough to use social channels, let them know it’s a good idea to keep in contact with friends they’re leaving behind. Relocating to another country doesn’t mean you need to completely cut off all ties to your old life.
Educate them about where they’re moving. Make sure you tell them as much as possible about your new home, and the area of the country they’re moving to. This will help them to bed in, and adapt to their new life a little bit more quickly.
Reassure them as much as possible. If they have any reservations, be sure to sit your kids down and run through them. Even if you don’t have all the answers for their questions, showing that they’re supported and listened to will be a big help.
In a way, pets can be even more of a hassle to move than children. They won’t be able to communicate their needs, and may require specialist conditions in order to be transported safely. If you’re worried about keeping your fluffy (or not so fluffy) companion safe when they travel, follow this advice:
Getting a pet passport. It might sound funny, but your pets need a passport in much the same way you and the rest of your family do. These shouldn’t be too hard to pick up from your local vet.
Vaccinations for pets. Your furry friends will also need to have had their rabies vaccinations. Beforehand, you may need to have them fitted with a microchip to make them legally identifiable.
Transportation crates. You’ll need to do some research into what kind of crate is right for your pet. There needs to be space for them to adjust and move themselves freely, while also complying with regulations imposed by the International Air Transport Association. And remember, the size of the crate used determines the cost of travel for your pet.