Within a relatively short time, the COVID-19 virus has affected almost all aspects of human life. The impact of the virus extends to industrialized and developing nations, wealthy people and those of disadvantages backgrounds, and across all racial and religious groups.
The practical ramifications of the Pandemic are observed in our financial situation, relationships, and emotional health.
Governments around the world have responded to the health crisis in different ways. Many east Asian and southern European countries have adopted Draconian measures, whereby enforcing its citizens into self-quarantine, and imposing legal consequences for those in noncompliance. Scandinavian countries have advocated a “herd Immunity” policy, predicated on allowing the body’s natural defences to develop resistance to the virus in younger people while isolating the older population. The United States has largely allowed state and local governments to determine the proper course of actions with laws and recommended health practices varying across regions.
The current challenges posed by the Pandemic are unprecedented in our lifetime. Expatriates, especially, find themselves in a precarious position.
Doubtlessly, transitions and instability are familiar challenges that come with living aboard. In my two years working as a psychologist aboard, I have observed incredible fortitude and astounding resistance in the expat community. Despite the strength displayed by many expats, it is common to struggle with acculturation, assimilation and difficulties with social connectedness.
Under normal conditions, the life of a foreign national is not easy. These are extraordinary times. Individuals living abroad during the pandemic face augmented risks of social isolation and emotional duress due to diminished social connectivity in the expat community and the unique challenges of acclimating to foreign government’s response to the present crisis. The normal set of challenges associated with expat life has been exacerbated, leading to increased emotional vulnerability. Gov.co.uk has advice for helping with these issues.
The unique stressors associated with the Pandemic necessitate specific and careful attention towards maintaining emotional health. The following proactive measures will support the emotional wellness of Americans living abroad during the Pandemic.
3 Tips On Emotional Wellbeing For Expats During COVID-19
1: Know who your resources are
As I have often advised my child and adolescent clients to self-advocate by actively utilizing the resources available to them at school, it is vital for expats to use the organizations that can provide assistance. It is essential for those living abroad to stay current with the recommendations of the United States Embassy. The situation of the virus changes by the minute, so it is important to obtain current information from trusted sources.
Most U.S. Embassies have provided specific information regarding the local government’s enactment of laws pertaining to the health crisis. In addition, current information is disseminated on the best methods for leaving the country in an emergency, and where to get tested and treated for COVID-19. In addition to embassies, expats should utilize other trusted sources such as expatriation news publications to stay informed about the local health situation in their respective country of residence. The process of actively staying informed provides a psychological preparation and will enable sound decision making.
Trusted institutions are also vital in obtaining professional psychological services. Many foreign countries have a dearth of qualified, English-speaking mental health professionals. The U.S. Embassy, international schools and medical institutions specializing in the treatment of English-speaking foreigners, typically have referral lists for vetted, English-speaking psychologists and psychiatrists. Obtaining quality psychological services is more vital than ever for expats, who are susceptible to social isolation and alienation during normal conditions and are far more at risk during our present crisis.
Social distancing should not be a barrier to obtaining psychological services. Many therapists now offer virtual therapy sessions.
2: Sustain regular and scheduled communication with friends and family
Many of those who were working and living abroad during the outbreak have returned home. For those who remained abroad, it is essential to stay socially connected. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Take full advantage of the numerous technology applications that allow video and voice conferencing.
Dealing with time zone differences is a familiar barrier for expats looking to maintain communication with folks back home. It is vital to schedule a consistent time for videos conferences. Keep the same times each week to ensure consistency and accountability for those involved in the call.
The time is ripe to reconnect with old friends, strengthen friendships, advance collegial relationships, and most importantly, support each other. Use this time to form meaningful connections, mend fences, and promote goodwill.
3: Remain productive
The accompanying quarantines, social distancing, school closures, and the moratorium on working in the offices has significantly disrupted daily living activities and routines. This disruption perhaps affects those living abroad even more. Expats depend on work, school, and social gatherings for the sustainment of feeling connected, productive and healthy. It is more important than ever for expats to adjust to this transition through the implementation of productive routines and schedules.
It is quite easy to succumb to boredom and laziness if confined to your home in a foreign land. Most of the exciting cultural sites and activities that draw many to a life abroad are significantly limited. The novelty of living abroad has been supplanted with home confinement and a diminished opportunity for interesting cultural engagement.
It is vital to remain proactive and to seize this opportunity to embark on new endeavors, projects and creative ventures. With more time and less distraction, there is an opportunity to expand our productivity, which is a rare gift in modern living.
Sustaining active engagement in worthwhile and fruitful endeavors will keep minds sharp, alert, and will help bolster our psychological wellness.
Remaining productive will be aided by te maintenance of consistent sleep schedules and daily workout regiments. A healthy mind-body relationship is more important now than ever.
Keeping physically active and cognitively engaged will assist in the promotion of sound decision-making skills and will ultimately foster emotional equilibrium during challenging times.
We are all living under stressful conditions that challenge our emotional wellness. Those living abroad are particularly vulnerable. The implementation of these 3 proactive measures will help Americans living abroad maintain emotional wellness in the current health crisis.
Bio: Joseph Graybill, Ph.D is an American Psychologist, licensed in New York. He is the psychologist at the Anglo-American School in Moscow and maintains an online clinical practice.