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Difficulties of being an ex-pat

Here are 7 things that I found which have the ability to give you stress, maybe without you even realising it, when living abroad.

When I made the decision to move to Mauritius, I initially thought ‘Well I’ve lived there before, so it’ll be easy!’. I had lived there when I was younger, but I hadn’t accounted for the difference in living somewhere as a child, and living there as an adult.

Little to say, I went through a period of adjustment…. a long period of adjustment! And what made it worse is that I didn’t realise it at the time. So now, as the dust is settled, I can look back, and make sense of what was going on, and why I felt so out of place.

 

1. LANGUAGE

 

I am bilingual, and I am aware of how wonderful it can be to open different cultural doors just by knowing a different language. But language in itself is its own culture. I mean, in the UK, you may have probably heard of the famous argument - Is it called a bap or a bun or a bread roll?!

 

I have also most certainly seen this in my role as an English trainer, where I spent many an hour discussing the differences and similarities of both English and French expressions. (By the way, beware of ‘faux amis’ – words that sound the same in different languages, but have no connection whatsoever!).

 

The naturalness of expressing yourself in your mother tongue is, I feel, taken for granted. So, just learning the language may not always be enough. You need to be aware of the cultural annotations and expressions, when they’re used, how they’re used, and that takes time! So sometimes, you might just end up feeling a little left out, isolated, or even stupid, for not being able to follow a conversation.

 

When can we call ourselves fluent in a different language?

 

 

2. CULTURE

 

I looked up the definition of culture, and one of the definitions was the following:

 

​'Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. ... '

 

….well, you get the idea. But the main one I would like to focus on here, for counselling purposes, is the differences in cultural thinking and mindsets, and as mentioned above, ‘.

 

Now I could go on forever on this subject, and I will definitely cover different segments of it in the future. But I wanted to highlight that it wasn’t until I experienced opposing social/cultural views or behaviours that I really felt like a Brit! Like for instance, it doesn’t matter whether the person in front of me in the shop has 4 or 5 baskets full of shopping and I only have 2 items, I will wait patiently behind that person until it is my turn, like the good citizen I am! It’s only when my very lovely shopkeeper tells me that I can cut the queue so I don’t have to wait to pay for my 2 items that I go ahead of the person in front of me (this is a small local shop by the way!). I could never do that myself! Cut the queue? Well I never!

Obviously, that’s a small example, but this is just a tiny idea of how far and ubiquitous these cultural differences can be, and the difficulty in getting past them.

 

Did particular cultural issues sneak up on you unexpectedly?

 

 

3. LEAVING FAMILY AND FRIENDS – LOSS OF YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM

 

This may be one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, as it’s usually with the help of your support system that you can overcome many of the points on this list, and more.

 

Nowadays, thanks to technology, that distance, is being gapped to an extent. We can speak to and see our loved ones when we wish. However, not being physically around long term friends, for example, can possibly affect that friendship going forward, as you will no longer be participating in activities as you used to.

 

Do we choose to make this sacrifice when we decide to move?

 

 

4. YOUR PROBLEMS FOLLOW YOU

 

Unfortunately, despite leaving your family, friends, work (unless you’ve moved for professional reasons), and so many things behind, one thing you can’t leave behind are your problems.

 

If anything, moving abroad may have really underlined particular issues that you perhaps ignored or just didn’t realise before, therefore forcing you to look them closer at them.

 

Though I do wonder whether looking at your issues more attentively is a good thing or bad thing? If you choose to look at certain aspects with the help of counselling, is that something that is widely available or even acceptable where you are now?

 

Thankfully, again with the help of technology, counselling can be gained and offered to anyone and by professioanal, potentially in the world. So, hopefully, if you would choose to get help, even if not popular in your country of residence, you could still do so within the privacy of your own home.

 

How does your country of residence view seeking support for mental health issues or personal issues? And how does it compare to your home country?

5. BUREAUCRACY

 

Now this one was quite a big one for me in the last couple of years, especially when I was trying to tick the boxes to be able to practice here. I realised how frustrated I became at not receiving a simple (what I thought was simple!) confirmation email after I had submitted a form several times. And even after going to the main office, hardly anyone had even heard of the organisation in question! And don’t get me started on the amount of time and paper used for receipts, warranties and who knows what else is used when buying something as simple as a toaster!

 

Getting used to the different legal systems and bureaucracy of a country just throws a whole bunch of different loopholes into the mix, when there were already so many.

 

Now, I am not saying that where I came from, all was perfect, as that is far from the truth. But through certain important and personal experiences had here, I sometimes felt that there was a lack of concern for someone who was just trying to get from A to B. And this made an otherwise smooth journey, unnecessarily complicated.

 

How has bureaucracy affected your transition to a different country?

 

 

6. QUESTIONING YOUR DECISION TO MOVE

 

Questioning ourselves is a normal thing to do for a lot of everyday decisions – ‘Do I really need that item today? Or could I do without so I can be lazy and avoid going out for one thing?’.

 

But once we start experiencing the reality of emigrating, having a lot of self-doubt is not something unusual. The only difference here is, if you choose to move back to your home country, retracing the steps we have already taken may prove to be complicated. Not to mention all the work involved.

 

To say that you will not, or did not have a moment of doubt (not regret, doubt!), will be almost unheard of. And as with most things, it’s a case of weighing the pros and cons. But is this something you can ONLY truly do when you are living and experiencing life in the country where you plan to move to? Or can you realistically list the good against the bad before actually physically moving there?

 

The programme ‘A Place in the Sun: Down Under’ comes to mind, where families make the choice to either move to Australia or stay in the UK after staying in Australia for a week. But would one week have been enough to make that decision?

 

Did you have any doubts, or regrets about your decision to move to another country?

7. FOOD!

 

And I am finishing this list lightly with food! How big of an issue it is depends on you of course. I will list this as both a positive and a negative (as are many things on this list!) , as you will have the opportunity to savour and try so many new dishes of the country you are living in, which can be extremely enriching, but sometimes you might just miss a good old fish n’ chips at the weekends!

 

What was your favourite comfort food back in your home country and  are you still able to enjoy that in your current country of residence?

 

 

Are you milk or are you oil?

So, I wonder what other things we could add to this list, or whether there is anything here that perhaps you didn’t think of?

 

Do you feel like a drop of oil in a bowl of water, where both elements refuse to mix together? Or perhaps you feel more like a drop of milk that, though is distinguishable initially from the water, slowly blends into it.

Personally, I have found myself creating almost a sub-culture, where I adapt to some aspects of new culture, whilst holding onto other aspects of the old. And it is ever evolving.

If you are finding it challenging or stressful to adapt to your new environment and would like a safe space to speak about it, then don't hesitate to contact me on the following:

​ushascounselling@gmail.com

+230 5841 2640

or

You can also go to the Contact Form

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HOW DO YOU EXPRESS YOUR ANGER?

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Anger is most probably one of the most misunderstood of emotions. It is seen as the ‘negative’ or bad emotion, and is usually frowned upon. In both cultures I have lived in, the common feeling associated with anger is that it is wrong to express it. I have even heard people say in right in front of me, quite bluntly - ‘Don’t talk!’. Usually, it’s when someone starts to get angry, start to express it, but then another person comes swooping in, as if at the first sign of danger, to say ‘Okay okay – that’s enough. Stop’. And the thing is, the anger they were expressing, was not in any way aggressive or unhealthy or destructive. But nonetheless, the moment anger starts to be expressed in any shape or form, people are often quick to shut it down.

Another example is when children, who are clenching their fists and teeth because they didn’t get what they wanted, are told ‘No no, you mustn’t get angry’. Now, I am sure a lot of us have done this - me included! But is this the right approach to dealing with their anger? Telling them that they must not get angry? In the heat of the moment, it comes so naturally to tell someone to stop, which in itself is a product of what we have learnt throughout our lives.

But what might be the consequences of doing that?  

CONSEQUENCES OF DENYING OUR ANGRY FEELINGS

Anger is like a child- you don’t want to let it drive the car, and you certainly don’t want to stuff it in the trunk also’ – Juna Mustad (adapted for the movie ‘Thanks For Sharing’). 

When we are constantly told by our families, friends and society to not get angry, or more specifically, not to even express it, there are one of two things that might happen.

  • We either learn to disregard our anger as we have always been told to ‘put it away’. Down the line, this usually leads to not even recognising when we are angry, let alone not knowing what to do with it. Anger is called by other names.

‘No, no. I’m not angry, I’m just upset’.

We put our anger in the trunk of the car.

 

  • Or the second option is to become angry at every little thing that annoys us. To be someone with a short temper, or with a short fuse.

In other words, putting our anger in the driving seat.

In essence, none of these options are a healthy way of dealing with anger. And in all fairness, neither of these paths show up overnight.

UNDERSTANDING OUR ANGER

 

‘Feelings are meant to teach you, not torture you’ - Vicky Noland Fitch.

An important step is trying to understand and explore what anger actually is.

Anger can be a response to a threat, or a violation of boundaries or expectations. Anger is also referred to sometimes as the bodyguard, where it is perhaps protecting you from a more ‘vulnerable’ emotion, such as feeling sad or frightened. At the same time, it can act as a secondary emotion, which would occur immediately after feeling a different primary emotion.

For example, you may get angry that your partner hasn’t washed the dishes…..again. You immediately get red hot angry about this, and fly into a rage. But if we were to look more closely, it could be that your expectation of living in a clean house has been violated. Or it could also be that because you asked your partner to do the dishes, and they didn’t, you may feel disrespected or disappointed.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BRAIN WHEN WE GET ANGRY?

 

Understanding how the brain works when we get angry can also be helpful in dealing with it.

So, we have a small pair of almond shaped parts in our brain called the amygdalae (amygdala in the single form). One of its functions is to regulate emotions. It is also sometimes called our personal alarm system, as it continuously scans the environment for any signs of danger.

 

So, when it does detect a perceived threat, and the keyword here is perceived, it will alert the brain that it needs to react in some way to keep us safe (and alive!). This is more commonly known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ reaction. So, in a matter of milli-seconds, the brain signals the body as to what action it needs to take. Either it needs to fight the threat, try to escape from it (flight), or play dead (freeze).

 

However, if the amygdala has been, in the past, in a continuously threatening environment, it will become over-sensitised to any perceived threat or danger. This means, in a threatening environment, it would have been constantly recognising real threats, and thus leap into action to keep you safe. Due to this happening repetitively, the amygdala becomes highly sensitive, and therefore will get the body into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, even when the threat is not a big one, or even a real one.

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WHEN THE RESPONSE IS TO FIGHT

 

So, as mentioned before, frequent anger outbursts can be a result of feeling like something is a threat to us, thus we automatically go into fight mode, because that is what the brain is telling us to do in order to keep ourselves safe. That is what has always kept us safe.

The problem with this is, we are not really being threatened, or not in any real danger, but the response we go through brings us through the motions of if they really were real. In time, instead of protecting us, the opposite usually happens, and we start to experience problems due to constantly being angry.  

WHEN THE RESPONSE IS FLIGHT

 

Have you ever had someone, perhaps even a loved one, become angry towards you? You don’t say or do anything, so you just ‘shut down’. This is a classic example of when the brain is choosing to flee the situation mentally and emotionally. This has also served its purpose for you in the sense that when you stayed quiet in the past, it was likely the threat disappeared. The situation, nonetheless, may have caused you to be angry at the person who shouted at you.

Or maybe you did come home to a messy house and instead of getting angry, just swallowed the frustration that came up in you. You cleaned the house, but did the anger go away? Probably not.  Unfortunately, feelings don’t just disappear, and usually end up manifesting themselves in another way.

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5 TIPS TO MANAGE OUR ANGER

 

Like all emotions, the aim is not to get rid of anger. It is here to stay and it serves a very important purpose. However, we can learn to manage the it, both in the short and long term.

While long term changes can take place with understanding the root of the anger and what our triggers, boundaries and expectations are, we can also implement coping strategies to manage it in the short term.

So, below is a list of 5 things we can do to manage our anger as it happens:

 

  • Breathe

We have heard this so many times, but taking deep, conscious breaths will allow the body to go back to a more relaxed mode. After being in the flight, fight or freeze mode, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is triggered, and this helps the body prepare to respond to stress.

Breathing allows the body to do the opposite, that is, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This means slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and slowing down our breathing. When this happens, the body steps into a more rational and calm state of mind, and no longer in a state of fight, flight or freeze.

 

  • Remove Yourself From The Situation

Walk away from the situation. This is not flying from the situation. Rather, it is recognising that your anger may result in an undesirable behaviour, and by removing yourself form the situation, you are intervening in the natural ‘anger cycle’, thus starting to break it. Go outside and get some fresh air. Go for a walk. Go and make a cup of tea. Pop onto YouTube to watch some funny videos or listen to music. Do an activity that you enjoy.

Preparing something in advance may also be extremely helpful here. For example, creating a playlist of your favourite songs or videos to watch when you become angry.

Remember, when you are enjoying yourself doing an activity you love, you are not angry.

 

  • Own It

This is a significant step to take, especially for those in denial about their angry.

Accept it and name it.

‘I am feeling angry’.

We cannot manage nor understand something we refuse to believe in. Learn to accept this anger instead of either fighting it or denying it. Not accepting it is equivalent to not accepting a part of yourself. In time, try to recover this part of you.

‘Give yourself the right to have them (these angry feelings) without giving yourself the right to act on the’ – Gabor Mate.

 

  • What Triggered You?

When you are in a safer and better place, allow yourself to think back to the episode, and try to reflect on what it was that got you angry. In other words, here, you will be trying to recognise your triggers. It may or may not always be evident here, and this is where the support of therapy can be useful in helping you to explore those triggers.

The advantage of doing this is that once identified, you can then take steps to avoid these triggers in the future. Identifying triggers may also lead to a better understating of why they trigger you in the first place. And therefore, by exploring and understating more about them, you may be on the path to reducing them in the future.​

  • Effective Communication

 

This last point is a skill that may take time to bring into practice. But once you have identified your triggers, that is, what made you angry, the next step is to be able to communicate them to others.

Have you even been annoyed, or indeed angry, but not really known why, and therefore you can’t explain it to others? Usually that just makes things worse! Being able to communicate how you are feeling will start the pathway of healthy and effective communication, which won’t cause the other person to have to guess why you are angry, which again, usually makes things worse!

Exploring and trying this in a safe environment will hopefully allow you to practice this without fear of repercussion, and hopefully give you the confidence in doing so.

 

In Conclusion!

Anger is not a bad thing and is not your enemy. But is it certainly trying to tell you something, and that changes may need to be made.

Anger can either be destructive or constructive. So if you want to take the steps to better manage and understand your anger, contact me today on:

+230 5841 2640

ushascounselling@gmail.com

or you can go to the Contact Form.

 

Thanks for reading!