Yesterday I watched a short video online. In it, a young woman with a guitar said she had written a song about life in our current situation. She strummed a chord, smiled at the camera, and then let out a prolonged scream. Lots of us are feeling stressed right now, but self-isolating as an expat brings additional and unique challenges.
One Expat’s Experience
Corinne is a French national who recently moved to Greenville with her family. She offers this description of their experience sheltering in place:
Every day we listen to the news from Europe. The spread of the virus in France, Spain, and Italy has affected us greatly, as we have family, friends, and colleagues in all three places. It seems unreal. We are very worried about our loved ones, and anxious that they might get sick or be hospitalized, and that we wouldn’t be able to be with them. In these conditions though, near or far doesn’t matter. We couldn’t be with them either way, because the lockdown wouldn’t allow us.
Living the “Stay at Home” in a foreign country — where we just arrived three months ago — makes us a bit anxious because we have no reference points. We don’t yet know the health care system, how Americans will react to the governor’s actions, if we can grocery shop as usual, or — most importantly —who would take care of our kids if we were hospitalized.
However, we do feel fortunate to live in South Carolina; a state which, to date, has fewer cases of Covid-19 than others, like New York. We live in a house with a garden, and we can enjoy our family and the outdoors.
So we end the fifth week of self-isolation with much more serenity than I could have imagined. Everyone is doing what they have to do, respecting each other’s space and privacy. We take time to do things, or we do nothing, and it is all well.
Americans and expats alike share the mix of anxiety and gratitude that Corinne feels. Unfamiliarity with health systems and daily rituals, as well as distance from loved ones, however, can heighten the feelings of tension for those in foreign countries. Additionally, you may feel frustrated that you came to experience a new place, only to be stuck at home. It might feel like you’re missing the whole experience.
Tips for managing stress
I like to manage stress by filling my head with interesting, intelligent people instead of the thoughts telling me to panic. This means podcasts — lots of podcasts. This week I listened to one that featured clinical psychologist Dr. Ali Mattu. He had some clear tips for coping during the quarantine.
Be compassionate to yourself
Give yourself a break. There’s a lot of shame out there about how you should be so productive with all this time on your hands. Don’t buy into it. Don’t worry if you don’t work out, or your kids are having too much screen time, or if you can’t get through a to-do list. This is a crisis, not a break.
Develop a (loose) routine
Making constant decisions, big or small, is draining. Having some kind of routine can ease that. It doesn’t have to be strict — goodness knows we need flexibility right now. Try having one thing to anchor your morning, one to anchor your afternoon, and one to anchor your evening.
Manage your news consumption
We all want to stay up-to-date on what’s happening, but the constant barrage of news can be too much. Limit consumption to one national source and one local source. Then look at them once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Then stop.
Consume media that helps you detach
We often talk about “guilty pleasures.” This is media that we enjoy, but feel kind of bad that we enjoy it. Well, there are no more guilty pleasures! If it gets you through the day, it’s legitimate. So enjoy your Real Housewives, your game shows, and your true crime. They are now a key to your continuing mental health.
Practice daily problem solving
Identify the stressors in your life, and figure out solutions. They may not be your normal solutions, but that’s ok right now. If you have to be in Skype meetings and you need quiet, the kids might watch three hours of YouTube videos. It’s ok during a pandemic.
Deal with your emotions
Do something each day that soothes you. For me it’s my book and a latte in front of the fire before everyone else is awake. For my husband, it’s playing the guitar. My daughter is knitting socks. Find your thing and do it without guilt.
Chat with your English teacher
Ok, this one is not from Dr. Mattu. It’s from me and the rest of the Wetzel Languages team. If you’re feeling like you’re missing out on living abroad, spend some time online with an American! You can practice your English skills and feel connected. Our teachers will be happy to meet up with you on your preferred online platform for lessons or conversation. Contact us here, or send an email to [email protected]. We can’t wait to hear from you because, hey, we want to talk to people too!