Happy New Year! Or is it? After social uprising in Chile, followed by a pandemic, and then Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, I greeted 2023 with a pillow over my head in bed. The expat slump got me.
In case you’re new to the concept of the expat six-month slump, allow me to explain. It’s the period after the excitement of a move abroad, when the dust has settled on the removal boxes and before you’ve settled into a new life overseas. The expat slump typically creeps in after six months, but you may feel it earlier or later.
It’s a moment of blah, when you just can’t be arsed to make new friends, to climb a tourist attraction or google translate at the grocery store any more.
Expat life is a huge privilege. So it feels wrong, shameful even, to admit you’re not hunky-dory in your new land. But speaking to someone who has experienced the expat slump many times before, it’s OK to feel sad abroad. Yes, we’re privileged, but we’re still human.
The events of 2021 and 2022 should make me feel more grateful for everything I have, most notably security, healthcare and basic human rights. Yet past events made me more anxious for what is yet to come.
I know I should be happy for a beach within walking distance but I miss my friends to go there with. Yes, I’m grateful for food in my fridge, but oh what I would give for a bowl of Rice Crispies!
Then the slump passed, like it always does.
For any of you also feeling the expat slump, please know that your slump too shall pass. For me, life abroad is cyclical. Add to this hormonal cycles and other rites of passage like births, marriages and deaths and life overseas is a galaxy of spinning planets. Sometimes things go dark, but the sun will pop his head around the horizon eventually.
Perhaps instead of a universe of expat worlds, life abroad is a machine full of cogs. Sometimes the cogs jam, and we need a factory reset. I’ve had my little reset, and now I’m good to go.
For anyone else in an expat slump, here are some tips for moving on:
- Be aware of your cycles. For me, within my period cycle I always get tired at a certain point. Coupled with this I’m slowing down now as I edge past my 40s. I’m also tired as the kids are on annual holiday. It can be useful to look at the cycles in your life, to identify the rhythms and recognise what is going on.
- Switch off social media. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and so on can be great ways to get ahead in your life abroad, but they’re generally not useful when you’re feeling down. Social media is prime for comparisons based on false realities. Read a book, go for a walk, and enjoy a social media detox.
- Remember you’re normal! Expat slumps are normal. There is no shame and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling down occasionally. Recognise your feelings, don’t push them away.
- Move. Exercise is a great way to get out of the funk, and even better if you can do so outdoors or in the company of others. Going from funk to fitness isn’t easy, but even a small change can have a big impact. Take the stairs instead of the lift, go for a short walk, ride your bike instead of taking the metro…
- Plan three great things. For getting out of the expat slump it can be useful to look forward to a few things. I like to make a plan for three specific things that I’ve wanted to do, but for whatever reason I’ve haven’t got around to doing them. The idea is not to do things you should do (but don’t want to), or to think up grand ideas which may be hard or overly expensive to implement. Instead it’s about organising a few simple things you really want to do, and to get them booked in now. My plan is horseback riding, a visit to Eastern coast of Uruguay and getting my hair and nails done.
- If your feelings persist speak to a professional. While it’s normal and healthy to feel down sometimes, if you are feeling low persistently, or your thoughts are getting in the way of your daily routine on a long term basis, speak to a qualified mental therapist.
As mentioned, this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat mental health issues. If you think you may be experiencing depression, speak to a qualified mental health expert.