In recent years, the convenience of travel has made moving to another country easier. For example, in Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that there has been a 24% increase over the past 10 years of Japanese ex-pats who choose permanent residency or extended stay in another country. Many people dream of moving to another country for a change in lifestyle or a fresh start. However, we don’t often think about the physical and mental strain caused by moving. Some may develop anxiety or stress from the move, leading to an imbalanced mental state or even depression. The fresh start you dreamed of maybe on the line if you become too stressed. As your environment changes rapidly, you may feel the consequences of deteriorating physical health. What precautions should you take in order to maintain your mental health when beginning life in a new land?
- Preparing for Your New Life Living Abroad
- Your Mental Health with Environment Changes
- Minimizing Stress Through Familiarization
- Moving to Another Country is Exciting!
Preparing for Your New Life Living Abroad
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) lists social factors as a significant stressor in daily life. Moreover, they categorize them in the following 4 ways:
・Separation from or death of a close family member
・Problems at work
・Changes in environment, such as moving houses
On one hand, it is easy to notice the stress caused by relationships, separation from family, and work problems. However, we need to also be careful as our environment changes, because it may cause us to accumulate stress unconsciously. It would be nice if there was someone close by that you could turn to in times of trouble. If not, however, you may find yourself mentally overwhelmed.
Moving to another country is one such way in which your living environment changes significantly. In order to avoid becoming stressed and overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of living abroad, it is important to prepare in advance and get rid of any anxiety factors. Below are 3 things you can look into at the very least.
Collect Information Before Moving to Another Country
Nowadays, information can be easily obtained through the Internet and social networking sites. It is a good idea to use such information networks to research the kind of place you will be living in.
・Directions to your new office or school
・Location of supermarkets and restaurants
・Differences in public safety between day and night
・Weather and temperature
Knowing the basic information about local life before moving to another country will help you prepare and avoid stress.
Adapt to Environment Changes through Language
Language is one of the most common causes of stress when moving to another country. Although there are now many translation services and apps available, it is best if you can handle the language yourself. You don’t have to master the language perfectly before you go; in fact, you can study it even after you arrive and get settled in your new location. However, it’s a good idea to have at least the basic phrases and greetings necessary for shopping and getting around. This will help significantly as your environment changes and you are surrounded by a new language.
Before moving to another country, make a habit of carrying a translation app or dictionary with you. Try to learn at least a few words in your free time to broaden your communication. In addition, is also effective to use gestures to communicate when you find yourself in a bind. However, interpretations of different gestures will vary between cultures. It may also be beneficial to familiarize yourself with how the local people use gestures in non-verbal communication. Learning the language is vital in adapting to living abroad as your environment changes.
Saving Money Before Living Abroad
Make sure you have a financial reserve before moving to another country in case you need to make sudden expenses. For example – but not limited to – unexpected happenings and accidents. Sometimes, the stress of living in an unfamiliar environment can affect your physical condition. If this happens, you will need to pay for medical treatment and medication. Furthermore, if the local cost of living is high, the burden will be even greater. It’s also a good idea to have enough savings to cover the cost of a round-trip ticket in case of emergencies.
Having enough money in your pocket will also help you feel more comfortable and safe in starting your new life living abroad.
Your Mental Health with Environment Changes
The longer you plan to stay, the more important it becomes to make sure your mental health is in check. According to a survey of 895 members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), stress-related ailments – including depression – accounted for about 10% of all injuries and illnesses. Furthermore, the rate of mental stress was particularly high among those who had been working overseas for under a year. Specifically, the causes were “lack of support in work” and “low satisfaction in daily life”. The reality is that these volunteer members often find themselves in areas where the environment is not sufficiently developed. Consequently, this places a heavy mental burden on them. This is something to watch out when you plan on moving to another country.
In addition, the study found that physical and mental ailments tend to appear within six months of living abroad, and decrease significantly after a year. Therefore, it is particularly important to take care of one’s mental health around the six-month mark when living abroad.
Minimizing Stress Through Familiarization
One of the factors that may reduce the burden on the body and mind when living abroad is becoming familiar and acclimated to local life. Through adapting to the changes in environment over the course of a year, the ability to cope and adapt increases.
The following is an example from an interview survey of Japanese ex-pats who had extended experience living abroad. A Japanese woman who worked for a real estate company was transferred to China without confidence in her own work. As a result, she was stressed by the unfamiliarity of living in a small apartment and changes in environment. As she continued to live a simple and frugal life, she gradually became accustomed to it. Eventually, she no longer found it difficult to live. In fact, she eventually married a Chinese man and found herself closely identifying with the local population.
If you live in one place for a long time, you will experience various difficulties and face challenges. However, by overcoming them each time, you will learn how to solve these once-unique challenges. Consequently, you will gain knowledge that will help you feel more relaxed about living abroad. Moreover, the parts of you that did not change will become your identity, leading to a stronger sense of individuality and confidence. By discovering a new self and broadening your horizons through moving to another country, you may find the opportunity for greater growth.
Moving to Another Country is Exciting!
In this way, both physical and mental preparation is extremely important when planning on moving to another country. It is a good idea to prepare as much as possible for unexpected happenings how you will react to them. The more you prepare, the less anxiety and negative thoughts you will have, even as your environment changes rapidly.
It is also important to have a way to relieve stress on the hand. If you have a stress-relieving method that you practice habitually, you may be able to prevent the secondary effects of excessive stress. The following is an example of a simple exercise you could do. Give it a try if you’re interested.
Mental health care is an important matter for overcoming differences in culture, values, and environment, and for stepping up your game when moving to another country. If you are ever thinking of getting a fresh start by living abroad, refer back to this article to help yourself prepare!
Looking to improve your mental health?
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Kato, S., Doi, Y., Tsutsui, S., & Makino, M. (2004). Job Stress among Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers: Using the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire. Sangyo Eiseigaku Zasshi, 46(6), 191-200. doi: 10.1539/sangyoeisei.46.191
Katsuyama, H., Nakano, E., Sasaki, J., & Tsuchiya, G. (1993). Issues in Mental Health Care for Overseas Business Travelers. Japanese Society of Psychosomatic Medicine, 33(6), 527-. doi: 10.15064/jjpm.33.6_527_3
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