No matter how exciting and interesting living in a foreign country can be, sometimes we’re just fed up with it all. Those are times when you start to question whether it’s time to move back home or move on somewhere new. Hello, expat burnout.
Sometimes you realize quite quickly realize that you’re simply tired of living abroad – you need more familiarity and a sense of belonging. Other times, you don’t even recognize what’s going on with you before it has already managed to negatively impact your mindset.
In this post I share what you can do when you’re tired of living abroad and what decisions would be best for you to make in order to feel excited again about living an international lifestyle.
SIGNS THAT YOU’RE EXPERIENCING EXPAT BURNOUT
Expat burnout has a tendency to sneak up on people over a period of time.
You know that your head is in a bad place when the smallest of annoyances flips you out and it takes you hours to get over it. You’re also well down a negative spiral when you look back on the past days/weeks/months/years and you can only see a trail of negative experiences.
The problem isn’t that you’re frustrated or experiencing difficult circumstances. That’s just normal life. The problem is that the negative is the only thing that you’re able to see.
Most importantly, however, you think that the reason behind all your negative experiences has something to do with the country you live in.
When we’re already in the throws of expat burnout, people can react very differently, depending on how you’re used to coping with challenges.
Some give up and retreat into themselves. Others want to move on somewhere new (or move back somewhere familiar) and immediately get energized from thinking about it. Others still get stuck in complaining.
One thing is common for all – there’s an element of frustration and hopelessness about living abroad. But you don’t need to stuck in that negative headspace forever. There are things you can do.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO REEVALUTE WHERE YOUR LIFE IS GOING
Whenever I’m not happy with my life abroad (or life in general), I’ve learned over time to take it as an opportunity to reassess the path I’m on and whether that path is still right for me.
Expat burnout is an opportunity to explore who we are, and what we’re missing in life, or what we’re missing in our chosen country specifically.
When we’re struggling, it’s human nature to focus on all that’s negative and lose sight of all the things we have gained from being an expat.
In such moments I often have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask myself what’s really going on in my life? And am I blaming what’s not going according to my expectations on the country that I’ve chosen to live in?
Sometimes, indeed, the problems we experience directly follow from living in our chosen country. But other times, it’s just an easy excuse to blame normal life problems on something outside of ourselves.
So the first step in overcoming expat burnout is to do a serious investigation and get to the root of it.
FINDING A WAY OUT OF EXPAT BURNOUT
Since there’s no way around this stage than straight through it, you should start with an audit of different areas of your life abroad. This in turn helps you determine what exactly is bringing you down and needs attention.
Below I’ve shared an honest assessment of my expat life at the time of writing this blog post, based on five categories that are important to me right now.
It seems that I have plenty to be grateful for (5 being the highest rating), but there are clearly areas where I’m not too happy (1 being the lowest rating).
After this step, you should dig deeper into specific problem areas to get to the root of what’s bothering you.
For instance, it’s not necessarily that you simply want friends – you most likely want particular kinds of friendships which meet a deeper need in you. Perhaps you have a need to exchange ideas with others, or a need for a sense of belonging.
Similarly, it’s not necessarily that you simply want a job that you like. It’s much more likely that there’s a specific goal attached to getting THAT job – a sense of validation, having an identity or earning more money. There are often other ways to obtain those same goals.
In other words, whichever area of your expat life that you rate as low at the moment, and whatever it is that you want to experience instead, there’s always a deeper need hiding behind it. Find that need and all of your decisions going forward will be better aligned with you.
This kind of reflection work also helps you explore the areas in your life that already bringing you joy.
For instance, what kind of needs are already being met when I score my satisfaction with my hobbies so highly? Indeed, some time ago I discovered a new hobby that has opened up a whole new world of activities for me and a steady flow of interesting new people.
It’s not just the joy and excitement of a new hobby that does it for me though. It’s also the challenge of learning something new, getting better at it, and doing so alongside other people who are equally as enthusiastic about it. There’s a sense of belonging that I get from this hobby and so it speaks to a deeper need most people have in life, myself included.
Reflecting on what is working is a great way to regain your joy for an international lifestyle.
As a final step, you should create an action plan to address what needs further attention.
Maybe this action plan won’t be very long after all because doing an audit of your life abroad showed you that you just need a mental break rather than a radical change in your life.
Or, maybe you end up realizing that time is indeed ripe for big changes. At least now you know which areas need to be tackled first and how to go about it.
How do you deal with expat burnout? Share your experience in the comments below.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.