How can it be stressful being an expat spouse?

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You’re an expat. Your children are at school and your spouse at work. Your only duty is to make dinner today. You have all the day to do whatever you like. Yet, you’re not happy. You actually feel quite stressed and you feel stupid about it. How on earth can you be stressed under these luxurious circumstances? If you would tell your friends at home they would probably frown at you and not understand how such a spoiled person can be stressed. So you try to tell yourself that you are such a lucky person, that all is well and you engage in a mass of activities to keep your mind off those depressing emotions.

If you’re actually living an expat life I’m pretty sure that you have been there. The question is how it can be stressful?

Last week I took a look at the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. It lists 43 stressful life events that can lead to illness, and I realized that when you move abroad you (usually) have to separate from your extended family, say goodbye to all your friends and social network, quit your job not knowing if you will ever get it back, leave or even sell your house and then move to a new house with foreign furniture and no things of your own, try to find food that you can use in a new food culture, try to find your way around in a new neighborhood, try to communicate in a new language, try to understand all the new, unwritten laws and behaviors, get used to the climate and all the noise in a big city as well as the traffic, take care of a stressed out spouse coming home from his/her new job and comfort your children coming home from school in a roller-coaster of emotions (with a new language, friends, system, teachers, subjects and unwritten rules), get yourself out and find new friends and finally enjoy that now you can do whatever you want – if you just had any idea of what that might be.

My conclusion was that you hit so many of the crucial stress factors at once, in a way that you probably never ever do in an everyday life at home. You might not have the stress related to time management that you have at home, but that’s not the most dangerous one. You sort of get BINGO in stressful events!

So accept that it’s enormously stressful to move abroad like you have done! You have had to meet so many stressful events at once that your friends at home would be shocked if they actually understood! Take care of yourself and accept your feelings. Share them with the new friends you find and you’ll be able to comfort each other. If you listen truthfully to yourself you’ll probably be able to figure out what you need to do to reduce your stress level. It might be to start meditate, find a gym, read a book, organize excursions with a neighbor to get to know your city, sleep a lot, watch a movie in the middle of the day or join a course to try new hobbies. The most important, I think, is to accept your feelings, listen to your thoughts and wishes and take a first step to reduce the stress and bring in more moments of recovery and joy.

 

Below you will find the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.

Life event Life change units
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Beginning or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Major Holiday 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.

Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score <150: Only have a slight risk of illness.

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