How to Recognise & Deal with Expat Burnout
Most of us will be familiar with the word “burnout” but what does it actually mean, and how does it apply to us as expats? Here are some signs of expat burnout and some pointers to help bring back the spark to your international life.
Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. It is more commonly understood in the context of work, but can also occur due to stresses in relationships, financial problems or other external factors. Expats can become vulnerable to burnout – or “change fatigue” – when the stresses of a transition-rich lifestyle begin to feel overwhelming and impact our everyday functioning.
Symptoms of expat burnout
The sense of exhaustion, frustration with your expat lifestyle and increasingly frequent thoughts of wanting to give up and return home can indicate that you are heading for or experiencing expat burnout. You may feel constantly tired, unmotivated, hopeless and/or overwhelmed, and experience anxiety at the thought of moving house or country again.
Expat burnout can occur at any stage of an expat experience: when you’re preparing to move (again) to another country, when you’ve just arrived and are setting up your new life, or during the daily routine of an established expat life. For many expats this feeling will pass, but for some it may persist.
Tips for dealing with burnout
If you are questioning your decision to join the expat culture and have lost your sense of purpose or motivation, these pointers are a good start to getting back on track. For colleagues, friends and family of expats, they may offer ways for you to support the expat in your life.
- Look after YOU first – Make your self-care a priority. On aeroplanes we are asked to place our own oxygen mask in an emergency, before assisting others. Listen to your body and mind: if you feel exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s a sign to take some time out and to prioritise your needs.
- Go with the feeling – Step back and accept that you feel the way you do. Recognise that this uncomfortable feeling is a sign that you are stretched beyond your limits right now. Know that in time you will recover and begin to feel like yourself again.
- Get back to basics – Stability is a basic need and there are simple ways to create it in your expat lifestyle. For example, establish a weekly routine that feels right for you; set up a regular chat slot with loved ones back home (e.g. Sunday 6pm); or plan simple and nutritious meals for the week, so that your diet supports your health and energy needs. For those who can’t avoid a highly mobile lifestyle or frequent travel, find continuity through rituals – this can be as simple as having breakfast at the same time every day no matter where you are.
- Explore your current city or a new place – It’s easy to stick to what we know, seeing the same people and places. Follow your curiosity and explore what is around you and further afield. Look about with new eyes. You might discover some gems to refresh your outlook on expat life.
- Have kinder expectations of yourself – Stop doing the things that are undermining your sense of wellbeing or putting unrealistic pressure on you. Take back control by reorganising your life step by step. Ask yourself: does this really have to be done today, or can it wait until I have more energy?
- Schedule time to relax – Make sure your to-do lists build in plenty of rest and downtime! Set some time aside each day to unwind and do something that nurtures your soul, such as joining a meditation class, jogging or going for a walk (find what works for you). Making this a part of your daily routine is key to supporting your wellbeing.
Many expats will feel stressed and despondent at some point. It is important to recognise the signs so that the negative state doesn’t overwhelm you and lead to burnout. If you need any guidance or somebody to explore your feelings with, please feel free to contact us for extra support. We are always here for you.
With thanks to Sophie Patrick for her contribution to this article.
Have you or a loved one experienced expat burnout? How have you dealt with it? Do share your tips below with the Expat Nest community. We all learn from each other and your insight may make a difference to someone’s life.