It’s normal, say experts. Here, they share effective tips on coping with the change, culture shock and feelings of depression.
Moving to a new country is exciting. But as expats relocate, it’s quite common that, at some point, homesickness strikes. Experts say this is quite a natural part of the transition process, and share effective tips on dealing with the changes and emotions.
When homesickness hits
On arrival, the family is usually in a state of euphoria and excitement, explains registered psychologist Dr Ho Shee Wai, director at The Counselling Place. “Homesickness typically sets in after the honeymoon stage,” she says, “when cultural shock sets in and the expat starts to see the differences between the host and home countries. They’ll experience feelings of isolation, which stem from the need for security and love that are associated with home.”
Some expats crave things such as certain foods or activities, while others miss the special moments they will never be a part of. And when this happens, some feel embarrassed or ashamed about their feelings. Chartered clinical psychologist Adriana Giotta, Director at SACAC Counselling, says, “Unfortunately, there is often a stigma attached to homesickness as it brings out uncomfortable feelings, which may be perceived as weak and unglamorous.”
Research shows homesickness affects 83 to 95 percent of expats, and anyone, regardless of gender or age, with a weak coping mechanism and less emotional resilience, will be more susceptible. Dr Ho adds, “Some circumstances may also make one more vulnerable; for example, a trailing spouse who now doesn’t have the role she had before – there’s a sense of being displaced.”
What are the signs?
Dr Ho says homesickness is akin to experiencing grief as you are “mourning the death of your former existence, to a large degree”. There are various signs and symptoms:
Physical symptoms Gastric pain, lack of sleep, headaches.
Cognitive symptoms Obsessive thoughts about home, negative thoughts about the new place, loss of concentration.
Behavioural symptoms Apathy, listlessness, lack of enthusiasm.
Emotional symptoms Mood swings, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, frustration.
Making new connections
CREATE a home away from home, and decorate your new place with photos and things that remind you of home. Get to know your new environment too, advises Dr Ho.
CONNECT and become involved in local events and the community via volunteering and group activities.
COMMUNICATE with friends and family. Regular catch ups will help keep you up to date with news back home. But don’t call your family every day – you need time and space to adjust to your new host country too.
UNDERSTAND that no matter how well prepared one might be, it is perfectly normal to miss your old life, says Adriana.
Beating the blues
Not only will it help you stay in shape, exercise will also help the body release endorphins to make you feel better. Make the decision to get out of your comfort zone and explore the new culture and people. Adriana adds, “Let yourself feel the unpleasant emotions, knowing they are only transient. And don’t idealise the past.”
Talk to other people, instead of withdrawing. Expat forums help you connect with others who may have felt the same way, and who can lend an understanding listening ear. However, if homesickness persists for more than six months and starts to interfere with daily life, it’s advisable to seek professional help.
Helping kids adjust
- Help them understand it is normal to feel sad and homesick when moving to a new country.
- Make the transition easier for kids by doing fun activities with them.
- Involve children in the whole move so they feel a sense of control – get them to plan for their new room, for example.
- Help them stay in touch with friends to enable them to feel connected to their life back home.
- Encourage children to make new friends in their new environment.
- Be an effective and healthy role model to your children – they will follow the example you set.
Need to seriously relax? http://www.thefinder.com.sg/body-soul/spas-salons/5-great-spas-leave-your-worries-behind
By Priyanka Elhence, The Finder, May 2015