I tend to go through phases of expat burnout. Sometimes I quite quickly realize that I’m in it. But other times, I don’t even recognize what’s going on with me before it has already negatively impacted my mindset.
But once I realize that I’ve been complaining about the country I live in too much lately, or that I’ve retreated too far into my introverted self, that’s when I know that changes are in order.
In this post I share what I tend do when I’m tired of living in a foreign country. I hope you find inspiration in my rather methodical approach for what you can do to move past your expat burnout and appreciate your life abroad once more.
SIGNS THAT YOU’RE EXPERIENCING EXPAT BURNOUT
Expat burnout has a tendency to sneak up on us 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 we’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 our life abroad. But we needn’t get stuck in that negative headspace.
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 to 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, I’ve created an Expat Life Health Checklist with powerful exercises and questions to help you determine what’s missing in your expat life – and the steps you can take to get yourself to a better place.
Click on the link below and download the file before reading how I have used it in my own life.
Let me walk you through the process.
First, I assess several areas of my life on a general level. The Expat Life Health Checklist contains 10 areas for you to consider but you can also add your own.
Below I’ve shared an honest assessment of my expat life at the moment, based on five suggested categories in the checklist. 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 I list the areas that need further attention into one column and the areas that already bring me plenty of joy into another column. In this way I can get a better overview of the general balance in my life.
And then I dig deeper into each of the columns.
With the categories that land in the “needs attention” column, you will have to work with three questions that challenge you to go deeper into what’s really missing in your life.
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 a need to exchange ideas with others, or perhaps a need for a sense of belonging. Similarly, it’s not necessarily that you simply want more money. Money can be a means for realising specific goals or living a particular lifestyle that can feel out of reach at the moment.
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.
But the checklist doesn’t just ask you to drudge through the dark stuff. With the categories that land in the “positive” column, I reflect on what is it precisely about these areas in my life that bring me joy.
Again, with the help of three questions, I aim to understand what kind of needs are already being met when, for example, 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’s working is also a great way to find some time to be grateful for what we have (and perhaps these are even things we did not have too long ago).
Finally, on the basis of what I’ve discovered from an honest assessment of my life abroad, the areas that are working and those that are not, I work out an action plan for how I can improve the state of things.
Maybe this action plan won’t be terribly long after all because this exercise showed you that you just need a mental break rather than a radical change in your life. Or, maybe you realize that time is indeed ripe for big changes. At least now you know which areas need to be tackled first.
How do you deal with expat burnout? Share your experience in the comments below.