Expats and mental health – The expat lifestyle. It is often portrayed as adventurous, exciting and life-defining. Sometimes it really is! Those years when we move abroad and apply our skills and talents in a foreign land and perhaps set down roots in that country. Expats from all over the world come to live and work in Amsterdam.
The city is a melting pot of nationalities, many holding senior professional positions and advancing their careers. Some expats come and go and many settle, buy houses and put their kids through the schooling system. What a time to be alive! And now much of all the above has changed as we all try to navigate through 2020, into 2021 and as we all try to preserve our physical health. But what about our mental health? And other areas that touch all our personal and working lives. Here we look with an expert at the subject of expats and mental health.
Well before the slap in the face that 2020 delivered to us all, the expat lifestyle was already fraught with problems, strains and pressures. Some expats do not adapt to life in The Netherlands. Working abroad might seem so exciting at first , but over time homesickness can sink in and people miss their family and relatives. Others fall into the trap of working too much and burn out or suffer exhaustion. Others fall into a different trap of drinking too much or substance abuse. Or, it could be that you are stuck in a rut and cannot see a clear path forwards.
One local professional helping expats to better navigate their expat journey is Els Bosma. Els is a Rapid Transformational Therapist. She is also a very experienced therapist and has helped a large numbers of expats in Amsterdam to find clarity in life and their careers. Els kindly took some time out from her schedule to answer our questions into expats and mental health.
Q1. What kinds of issues do you mainly see that expat ad mental health have to deal with during their time working abroad?
Well, the interesting part is that the issues us expats are dealing with are actually not so much different from the issues everybody deals with, whether abroad or in our home country. The difference of being abroad is that we are in a surrounding that is unfamiliar to us. And our brain is suspicious of unfamiliar. So we tend to be more on our qui vive. Which gives a base level of tension that we don’t have in our home country. And this is the only difference between the issues that we deal with as expats versus locals: we feel anything we struggle with more intensely than we would in our home country.
To give an example, if in our home country we sense that we are stuck in a behavioural pattern where we constantly question ourselves and our decisions at work, then being abroad this can lead to full blown imposter syndrome, where we constantly compare our own insecure self with the shiny external image our colleagues are portraying. The sad thing is, we might have come here to the Netherlands because of a great job opportunity, but we may end up really disrupting our career, because we didn’t realise we are dealing with our own imposter syndrome.
Q2. Please tell readers Els more about your background.
Hi all, I always call myself the expat at home, because an expat is what I’ve been since I was about 22 years old. That is when I choose the expat life for the first time: I moved to the Caribbean to do scientific research for my studies as Tropical Marine Biologist. After that I worked and lived in Zambia, Tanzania, United States of America (twice) and the United Kingdom. And now I’ve landed here in the Netherlands, my home country. I started my career as a scientist working for The United Nations (FAO) and later on moved to the corporate world and had a thriving career as a change manager at an International Scientific Publishing company.
My whole life I’ve been fascinated by change, change in cultures, change in organizations, and change in human beings. And when through changes of my own I found myself in a pretty heavy burnout, I searched for my own change for the better method to get myself out of this. And that is what Rapid Transformational Therapy did for me. I became so enthusiastic about the method, seeing the results on myself and the people around me, that I embarked on a full career change. And after being trained by the founder of this highly effective method herself, Marisa Peer, I’ve started my own practice. Several years later I’m an Advanced RTT Therapist, and I’ve seen so many lives changed for the better.
Q3. Please tell us more about your methods to help expats.
The method I use is called Rapid Transformational Therapy. Marisa Peer created it some 20 years ago. And RTT helps us first and foremost to discover the true reason and root cause of the pain we are currently feeling. The struggle we find ourselves in, is always based on a pattern that we’ve build up during our formative years. What we believe of ourself is the basis of how we interpret any situation we find ourselves in. If we believe we can handle anything that comes our way, than we can handle anything that we come across. But if we believe we are too small, not enough, not just quite smart enough, not just quite good enough to handle any particular task or responsibility, then guess what? We cannot handle it, feel out of control, or out of our depth.
Knowing what is at the base of these beliefs allows us fully to let go. To break through that believe, and ultimately, break through that pattern that we were stuck in. Feel freedom again. And, feel how you should feel. Feel how you always wanted to feel. So you can live the life that you want, the life that you deserve. And all of this can be done in as little as 4-8 weeks. It’s that powerful.
Q4. What indicators should expats recognise about their own situation in order to ask for help?
Every time we question ourselves: “Why am I doing this?” or “Why is this always happening to me?” we are actually noticing a (self-destructive) pattern we are in, without seeing a way out.
Or it could be that our surroundings are noticing our self-destructive patterns even before we do and then we’ll hear a lot of “why are you doing like this all the time?”.
And last, but certainly not least, is when we look into a mirror and we don’t recognise ourselves anymore. Say things like “I didn’t behave like this before. Normally I could handle this perfectly, what is going on? Why can’t I take care of this?”. Go and find the way out: we can all be our best selves again!
Q5. The Covid situation has changed everyone’s behaviour and habits. What issues have you noticed that have changed?
If being abroad wasn’t enough, we are now also cooped up at home (most of us). No change of scenery from work to home and back again. We are suddenly all pushed into the corset of the Introvert. I’m saying corset but that is how it feels like, only for the extravert. For the introvert this actually feels nice and snug.
So for us extraverts, this is a really almost claustrophobic experience. A very unfamiliar experience. And as mentioned before, our brains are not happy with the unfamiliar. So our base level tension is up a notch again. Making us touchy and if we don’t pay attention, testy even.
For us introverts, this seems like not a big ordeal. But that is a dangerous idea, sadly. Everybody needs connection. When us humans evolved, only the ones who sought connection, survived and lived on. That is our most basic need. Also for introverts, believe it or not.
And in these times, our opportunities to connect are minimal. To a point that we start to suffer mentally even. So here is a tip to make sure we connect, even (or especially) in the 2-dimensional world of Zoom and Microsoft teams:
Compliments! Yes, something as simple as compliments! But it has rules. We can’t just give a compliment and expect to have a meaningful connection. So for us to come unscratched at the other end of this pandemic, click here and read how we can connect.
Thanks Els for these great insights into Expats and Mental Health! To learn more about Els, here are her contact details:
Els M Bosma Website
Tel: 06 40 09 10 44
Address: 342 Da Costakade, 1053 XE Amsterdam
Or read more about Els M Bosma here