Mental Health
Moving Abroad & Expat Depression: How to Cope

You’ve recently moved abroad and all your friends back home think that you have a phenomenal life. But what happens if, in reality, you’re feeling culture shock, homesick, alone and are missing your friends?

Moving abroad is an exciting experience—the new sights, sounds and adventures. Being away from home is a wonderful opportunity to experience personal growth, travel to new destinations, maybe even pick up a new language and learn how to cook a local specialty.

The reality is that when moving abroad, even on an expat package, life may seem glamorous from afar, but many expats experience loneliness, anxiety, and sadness due to missing out on things back home. Common triggers include missing the weddings of close friends and other important events, depression, and culture-shock in their new homes. It’s easy to talk about all the new and exciting parts of moving, but most people do not disclose the actual hardships and “downs” that they feel when moving. It can even be embarrassing to open up to someone back “at home” and tell them that you’re actually not enjoying your move to a new city.

Moving abroad can leave you feeling lost, especially if you have to leave your job

Moving to a new city or country can leave many expats feeling a loss of identity, especially when following a partner for the move and experiencing not working for the first time in your life. For some people, they love the time off. For others, expat depression means to feel lost, confused, depressed. As a trailing spouse, many people following their spouse are faced with having to figure out “Who am I anymore without my external label and occupation? What do I tell people when they ask me ‘what do I do’ and I don't have a job? How will I go about finding a new job here??”

Many couples take the opportunity of moving abroad as a good time to expand their family and have a child. For new families, living abroad can especially pose challenges during pregnancy and after birth, when both parents are especially in need of support from family and friends. Without the support network, new parents living abroad can face an especially hard time dealing with postpartum depression (also known as postnatal depression) and seeking qualified help in their new home.

moving abroad expat depression

How to cope with the move, embrace it, and feel great

From working closely with mental health experts that offer their services on RingMD, and from our team's personal experience having expatriate friends from around the world, and having lived in Australia, the United Kingdom, Russia, the United States, France, India, Vietnam, New Zealand and Singapore, here’s a collection of tips that can help you get through the pains of your transition and make the most of your new life and new home! 

1. Carve out space for yourself

Moving to a new place is filled with excitement. So many new places to see, so many new people to meet! Make sure to block out some time to yourself or you will soon end up exhausted, and potentially irritable and lacking motivation to further explore your new home.

2. Get by with a little help from your friends (and family)

Silver and Gold.

Make new friends, but keep the old;

Those are silver, these are gold.

If you don’t have any friends or a support network in your new home, keep in touch with your community, family and friends from other parts in the world. Even if there is a time difference, you can set up a recurring schedule to catch up with people that you feel comfortable with. This is a great way to help yourself stay positive and keep things in perspective. For example, make an effort to speak to your “friends from home” 1-2x a week before heading to work. 

3. Let go of the past and embrace the now

Holding on to the past—the routine you used to have, dreaming about your favorite park, walk, place in the city you used to live, your friends—may be preventing you from adopting to your new life and causing you unnecessary misery. Check in with yourself. Do you have unusually high expectations of what your new life and new city should be like that is preventing you from embracing, enjoying and discovering your new home? 

Feeling uncomfortable or anxious is common when dealing with various situations in the workplace, assuming that you have taken a new job after moving. But keep in mind that anxiety is related to the perception and anticipation of a threat, and if you do not manage your anxiety, you can find yourself with added physical and mental health issues (here are some more tips on how to manage anxiety and stress in the workplace, and how these stressors can impact your life outside of work).

Moving on can be hard, but seeing your new home with a fresh pair or eyes and accepting your new home for what it is, is one of the first steps to enjoying and making the most of your new life.

4. Take care of your mental health

There’s a lot to process with a new move — even if you have just moved across a state border and not to a new country.

First and foremost it's critical to know where to get healthcare support. For example, in Singapore you could use a service like RingMD to instantly connect with a doctor. Don't worry about finding a neighborhood clinic when the doctor can come to you. You also need to figure out the new place to get groceries, drop off your mail, find new friends, maybe even find a new job. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to be upbeat all the time, and pay attention to how you’re feeling and let your emotions wash over you. This is a good time to embrace mindfulness practices, journaling, breathing exercises or maybe even pick up a new activity like yoga.

If you’re feeling especially stuck, reach out to speak to a qualified professional.

In many countries, there are dedicated agencies that help people assimilate into local countries and find a new apartment. If you think that you may be depressed or are feeling especially down, you may want to look into seeking professional help for in-person or remote therapy. The latter is especially a good option if you do not speak the local language and do not have a wide selection of proximate, qualified mental health professionals.

There’s no reason to feel embarrassed or guilty. Helping yourself will allow you to help others in your life!

Working with a mental health and wellness expert can help you structure and adapt to your new surroundings, so that you can go back to feeling like the "you" that you used to be. If it feels like you don’t have control of your new life, and you're thinking "I need a therapist near me" but dont know where to start, try the RingMD therapist directory. We will help you find the right therapist for YOU!

FIND YOUR THERAPIST

5. Move

Being stuck in a rut, depressed or scared of venturing outside your home because you do not speak the language will not help you feel better or adopt to your new home. No matter how you feel, try to at least make yourself go on a walk around the neighborhood instead of staying inside all day. If the weather isn’t pleasant, go for a quick workout at the gym. The good part about being new to a city is that many gyms and exercise studios offer unlimited and/or reduced prices for your first few visits. 

Raising your heart rate and staying focused on the physical activity at hand is a proven way to chemically make you feel better (endorphins are released within your body when you exercise which help reduce anxiety and increase happiness!) and is a great way to focus on something other than the issue that’s making you feel anxious.

6. Eat well, feel well

It can be especially hard to eat well when you move to a new place. You may not know where the nearest grocery store is located, your shipping container with your pots and pans may not have arrived yet, and you’re constantly going out to dinner with your new colleagues or friends-of-friends.

There are still ways to eat healthy while eating out and try your best to avoid excessive intake of caffeine and alcohol at this time. While the latter may make you feel awake, and then more relaxed, they can also contribute to emotional volatility and low-energy in the long-run. All-in-all, try to dedicate even a few minutes a day to yourself and check-in with how you are feeling, and do what will make you feel good.

Welcome to your new home!

JOIN THE COMMUNITY!