Stressed? An expat? Here’s what you need to know!
To manage stress, we often need to first understand it. This week Expat Nest founder Vivian Chiona invites Clinical Psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Ioulia Maimari (MSc) to discuss the ins and outs of that thing called stress.
Everybody gets stressed in their daily lives for various reasons. Moderate amounts of stress can help us concentrate and perform under pressure; this type of stress can keep us energetic, alert and motivated to face all kinds of challenges. Prolonged stress, however, can begin to affect the body and mind, and may lead to ill health, fatigue and a variety of psychosomatic symptoms (like headaches, back pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, numbness, cough).
But what exactly is stress?
Stress is a physiological response to a perceived threat. In other words, it is the body’s own mechanism to protect itself.
In some respects we haven’t really advanced much as a species since the time of the caveman. If a cave dweller met a bear in the forest, his whole body would prepare him for flight or fight. His muscles would tense; hormones like adrenaline would be released in his body; heart rate and blood pressure would elevate and his breath would become shallow and rapid. This ‘flight or fight’ response served human beings well. It helped mobilize us to either run from the bear or face up to it. In taking action, the tension that had built up in the body would be released. As soon as the cave dweller was out of danger (assuming he survived), his body would return to homeostasis, its normal state.
This exact process still happens to us when we perceive a threat to our well-being. Today our threats are, for the most part, emotional or psychological. These threats might exist in our way of thinking, rather than in the physical world, but the body doesn’t know the difference. In any given moment, the human mind perceives and analyses various events from the surrounding environment. Some may be categorized as dangerous. As a result, the body speeds up its activity, preparing to react. However, as our threats are now rarely about physical danger, there is no way to release the accelerated flight or fight response in the body.
Expat stress – another stress experience
Major life transitions such as death of a spouse, divorce, a relocation, a new job and a new school create the greatest amount of stress in a person’s life. For most people, these major stressors occur perhaps a few times in their life.
For expats though, moving and changing jobs can happen every few years, sometimes even more frequently! Expats have to deal with new environments regularly. There are often many unknowns in the expat life, especially when we’re contemplating a move. We don’t know what to expect of the new working environment, what our new home will be like, if we’ll make friends, or if our kids will adjust to their new school(s). In the absence of concrete data, our mind steps in and creates worst-case scenarios. Thus, it becomes even more imperative for us to learn tools for managing stress.
You may not be able to get rid of typical expat stressors, but you can learn mind and body techniques that reduce the negative impact of stress and anxiety in your daily life.In our next newsletter we will discuss some simple but effective techniques for recognising and managing stress.
We would love to hear from you! What are your main stressors? How do you know when your stress level has gone from constructive to destructive?
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Feel free! We ask only that you include this information: Expat Nest is a professional online counselling service for expats. Expat Nest supports expats who are facing challenges and who want to feel happier and more relaxed in their international experience. http://www.expatnest.com
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