The other day, I shared a metaphorical cake recipe to represent the realities of life in a foreign land. Expat life can drive a person insane. Add to that a new marriage, significant loss, health and financial issues, and the added isolation of a countryside devoid of civilization and you have a recipe for…well, disaster. But life is all about choice. And while we may not be able to choose what happens to us on a day to day basis, we can choose what we do about it.
Today, I’m going to share with you my new recipe…one that is still experimental and open to adjustments. On most days, it’s quite palatable, and you can use as much or as little of each ingredient as you want, though research shows, the more you use, the happier you feel.
I know it is kind of a tiring meme, but cultivate gratitude and appreciation for what you have on a daily basis. Chances are, you have it a LOT better than most people, even if you don’t think you have it all that great. Though in some respects, telling someone to be grateful is akin to telling someone to breathe; both are fairly obvious, both can be taken for granted. So inhale deeply and find as many things as you can to be grateful for.
I cannot begin to express the importance of exercise in my life. Actually, I don’ t even like the word exercise. I think I prefer movement because instead of thinking of it as sweating and working hard, it can be all manner of pleasures for the body to experience. It’s about expressing through the body, stretching and feeling good. It’s about moving out the emotions that would otherwise get stuck. It’s about moving forward when you feel completely frozen in so many other areas of life.
Do What You Love.
Being in a foreign land far from everything familiar has had a funny way of reminding me of all the things I used to love to do…even if I’d given them up. It reminded me of other times in my life when I started something new…like when I learned to play bass guitar or when I spent $50 on art supplies (a fortune for me at the time) to make art. Think about and reconnect with what you love. I’ve always loved ballet, so I started watching videos and shows about dance. Find a way to do what you love no matter how obscure it may be in your adopted country or lacking in opportunity. Create the opportunities. Heck, I’m even thinking of picking up the ukulele.
Recall the best moments.
I’m a writer and so have kept journals for years. I only keep the good stuff, though. The rest I toss. So when I go back and re-read my journals, I am pleasantly uplifted by the positive memories, important lessons, and insights and inspirations. In fact, my old journals led me back to myself in a rather profound way. I had entries about my values, my strengths, my dreams, and some of the most magical things I’ve experienced in life. Revisiting was like dosing up on happy pills…only much, much better. So, revisit your past through journals, photographs, or whatever you’ve got that brings good things and happy thoughts and memories to mind. And if you don’t have access to that sort of thing, start creating something now.
There are days when all I want to do is hide in my room watching Netflix. Sometimes, in fact, that’s all there is to do. But on others days, I know there’s something going on “out there” that I might enjoy, and I simply have to force myself to get dressed and go. Sometimes, I’m really glad I went because I did actually enjoy myself or made new connections. Other times, the event can be a miss, and I’m just glad I got out of the house. The point is, it’s important to at least try.
Take breaks and chill.
The above being said about “forcing yourself” must be balanced out by taking breaks. For example, after a period of increased stress and anxiety, I quit my weekly French lessons. It felt down-right rebellious, and I didn’t regret it either. I really needed the break. I wasn’t integrating anything new and was having trouble accessing what I’d already learned. It was time to spend my time rediscovering things I enjoyed and less on things that added to my stress. Language was adding to my stress, therefore, the break. I returned to it with vigor after a couple of months.
Reach out for support.
When you can’t turn to old friends and don’t exactly have new ones yet, and when your partner is preoccupied or simply not psychologically equipped to be there for you, find someone who is. I’ve done two things since embarking on my expat life in France I’d never done until then. I called a support hotline! It was a bizarre but helpful experience. I also hired a counselor. She helped me maintain a healthy perspective and because she herself was an expat, she really understood the depth of my emotions and could help me understand them too.
Throw this altogether in a pan, stir until smooth, then pop it in the oven and bake until you feel better.
The expat life can be really tough. You’re not alone! For one thing, there are many of us out there with you in our respective countries, and for another, you have yourself…the best friend in the world to cultivate. XO