Expat life: 3 reasons mindfulness matters

February 26, 2019

Juggling an assigned role and communicating with head office and family (often across multiple continents) can be mentally draining. Although expat living has many benefits, the pace can put a strain on our mental health and wellbeing. It can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves, anxious and, if unchecked, expat depression may follow.

Mindfulness is the conscious practice of staying in the present moment. In life, most of us spend much of our time thinking about the past or planning the future. Mindfulness helps us focus on the here and now. Multiple studies show it can have a positive impact on conditions like chronic illness, stress and depression. 
An advantage of mindfulness is its accessibility when it comes to practice. You do not need to be in a specific place, have any equipment or have specialist training to be mindful.  All that is involved is becoming aware of your body and immediate surroundings, focusing on the feeling of your feet on the ground, what you can see and your breathing. Just allow thoughts to come and go while focusing on breathing in and out. Spending five or ten minutes a day doing this has been proven to help regulate our thoughts and  improve empathy and resilience.
The regular practice of mindfulness techniques can help expat mental health in several ways:
One of the inevitabilities of life as an expatriate is the need to move country, and sometimes continent, more than once. Even though your employer may help with some of the logistics, decluttering and packing up are often left to you. This is further exacerbated if you have a family. With kids there is the additional concern of school places and settling in to a new routine. Everything can begin to feel like too much. This is where mindfulness can help. Spending a few minutes, every day, grounding yourself by focusing on your breathing can help you get the perspective and mental clarity you need to plan and execute your move. 
Expatriate roles are by their nature demanding. Often, we have challenging goals to complete in restricted timeframes.  The combination of different work culture, relocation adjustment and a lack of support network can result in emotional problems like anxiety and stress. Taking some time out during your working day to practice mindfulness can help you gain some much-needed perspective on what you must achieve over the working week. Consider taking a mindful walk over lunch, sit on a park bench or another quiet place and focus on you. It will help you refocus and prioritise in the afternoon.
Chances are, experiencing a new culture was one of the reasons you made the decision to work abroad, but sometimes the expectation can be very different to the reality. Change can bring uncertainty, a lack of control and concerns about whether we can adapt. These are all likely to be feelings you experience in your new home. Taking some time to appreciate your surroundings, be they urban or rural, warm or cold, can help you feel less overwhelmed by change. It may also help you focus on your life in its current state. Perhaps providing you with the clarity to take the time to make friends, even though you are only on assignment for a year or to join a sports team and play for a season instead of focusing on leaving.
If you are struggling with life as an expat your international health insurance might be able to help. Our plans include access to an expat assistance programme offering you confidential professional counselling that could work in tandem with mindfulness to help you cope more effectively with the challenges of expat life.