More covid restrictions and higher numbers of positive tests. These have been difficult and testing times for everyone. We all had to adhere to the same restrictions and rules and will still do, as in public transport. The vaccine rollout has certainly improved things and we all feel that the future will be brighter. I like to think that the situation has made people kinder to each other. On the other hand, the current crisis has increased the stresses and strains of daily life. I have often said that because of Covid philosophers and psychologists will be more important to us all. Philosophers as we take stock of who we are and what our role is in the big picture of life. Psychologists as we need help with our mental health and therapy during covid time. That is the subject of this article and Q+A.
Many people seem to have the impression that the expat lifestyle is a long, easy flowing river. However, as the old saying goes: Still waters run deep. What often appears peaceful and under control can hide the real situation. Even before the current crisis, many expats were already seeing psychologists in Amsterdam. The problems were very real and many of them had their origins at work. These include stress, burnouts, homesickness, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and a range of other issues. Then, on top of all that the Corona Virus arrived, which caused an extra whole new level of stresses and strains to deal with. For many, this extra stress exposed other issues and the need for therapy became more urgent.
In this piece, we want to look closer at how things have changed in the area of mental health during the time of Covid. If we are all more aware of what other people are going through, perhaps we can all be even kinder and more considerate to others. So with the help of Déborah Alvarez Garrido, one of the therapists at Empower Psychotherapie Amsterdam, we look at what extras issues expats are facing and therapy during Covid time.
1. Déborah, even before the Corona Virus arrived, the expat lifestyle had a high level of stress for many people. Could you please outline for us the kind of issues expats face with their mental health?
Expats often have to juggle the stresses of high demanding jobs and building up a new social network in the Netherlands. All this while maintaining ties with their friends and family back home, while getting used to a new culture and environment. Also, starting a family can add up to experiencing feelings of distress.
When there is a predisposition for developing a mental disorder, or if there is a lack of tools on how to manage distress, these life stressors can spiral out of control. This can result in, for example, depressive symptoms or anxiety.
Some might turn to disruptive coping mechanisms, unaware that in the long term these behaviours will contribute to further worsening of the symptoms. Behaviours like substance (ab)use, overworking (to maintain the high level of functioning that is frequently expected), or engaging in mind-numbing behaviours as an escape.
2. What changes have you noticed with the mental health of expats since the spread of the Corona Virus in The Netherlands?
This depends on who you ask. For people that find social interactions challenging, social isolation has provided a good reason to engage in avoidance behaviour. In the short term, this gives a sense of relief, but at the same time maintains the problem.
The most obvious effect of the pandemic is an increase in feelings of loneliness, especially for those who still have to build their life in The Netherlands. There are fewer possibilities to meet new people, so integrating into the new environment becomes more challenging. Also, travel restrictions make the gap between themselves and loved ones even bigger. Life has become more monotonous. For many keeping a daily structure is difficult, which can lead to a lack of motivation on a day-to-day basis.
3. Your expat clients are not always in Amsterdam. How does therapy work for people who cannot physically come to your premises?
Online therapy offers many possibilities. Clients have continued with their sessions even while travelling back home. It also worked when they decided to quarantine with their family. This ensures that the therapeutic process is not disrupted.
There is also more flexibility in scheduling sessions since most clients don’t have to travel to the office. Depending on the type of therapy that is needed, having sessions online can still be very helpful. We do make a distinction between the needs of the client depending on the mental distress that they’re experiencing. Online therapy is not suitable for everyone.
4. What advice would you give to people feeling the strain mentally? What are the steps they need to take to get help?
Talk to someone! This could be a partner, a friend or your GP. Usually, problems become bigger when they only stay in your head. Physical activity is also a great way to channel distress or strain. If you feel that you’re in a rut that is difficult to get out of, schedule a (double) appointment with your GP to explain what you’re going through. They will guide you through the steps that you need to take to get suitable help.
5. Do you have any daily tips for people feeling the strain? What can they do to let off pressure?
- Physical activity, such as walking
- Spending time with someone you feel comfortable with
- Reach out to someone you haven’t heard in a while
- Maintain a healthy daily structure.
- Stay away from addictive substances.
Start small and try to implement the activities that you normally enjoy before feeling strained.
Thank you Déborah for answering our questions. Thanks also for these great insights into what is happening with the mental health of expats and therapy during Covid time.
If you are interested in meeting Déborah, or one of her colleagues, click here to apply for a non-committal introductory meeting
Empower Psychotherpie Amsterdam.
Address: Rokin 93-2, 1012 KM Amsterdam
For more great articles like this, see our Amsterdam blogs and articles.