5 simple ways to fight the ‘Expat blues’

You came to Switzerland because your partner accepted a relocation package here. Spending hours alone at home each day, you are starting to feel a bit down. Could it be because:

  • creating meaningful connections with other expatriates and Swiss locals is harder than you anticipated? We all agree that integrating into Swiss society is not obvious, especially if you don’t have children in a creche or in kindergarten.
  • searching and applying for jobs is not bringing you any results yet? This very frustrating and demotivating.
  • it’s harder than you first thought to find the energy and motivation to start a project that is important to you?
  • without work, you feel as though you have lost a large part of your identity, which is a well-known problem for career couples who both previously worked.

Don’t worry, these expat blues are common and I would like to share with you a well-known approach which has helped me to reconsider my life from a whole new perspective over the years.

The art of gratitude

As a fresh expat in Switzerland a few years ago, I was looking for a job in Basel for almost a year with little success – I was frustrated, sad and hugely discouraged. My self-confidence was beginning to falter. It was around this time that the above picture was taken.

During those challenging days, the unconditional love from my five-year-old son was enough to help me forget my feelings of disappointment. I still keep this photo on my desk as a daily reminder to develop my sense of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude, what for?

You’re probably thinking how gratitude is not a natural way of thinking and it’s true. It’s much easier to complain, criticize or blame someone else for your situation. I am, by no means, a master of this art, although I have noticed over time how gratitude has enabled me to:

  • Avoid depression and strengthen my health. By promoting positive emotions, I sleep better, I have more confidence in myself and I trust my ability to create the life I want. It’s also been said that gratitude increases life expectancy, strengthens your immune system and allows you to recover faster from an illness. So why would you not use it?!
  • Be happier. I am naturally interested in others, that’s why I became a career coach. This curiosity and the gratitude I feel for these daily exchanges, creates good vibrations which are often returned to me threefold.
  • Find serenity. Returning to the present moment, gratitude helps me appreciate what’s happening in the here and now. Although these moments can be fleeting, they are always worth treasuring. For example, I often find serenity while walking barefoot in grass during the summer months and I can focus on all beautiful sensations my feet are feeling. I am so grateful for the benefits I get from nature (and also to my coach who suggested I do this exercise). As if by magic, practicing gratitude on a regular basis can help eradicate stress. But you must find what works best for you.
  • Strengthen my heart power. Through yoga practice, I have discovered the energies of my various chakras. The energy my heart chakra sends to an individual when I express my gratitude is always well received. It’s an extraordinarily powerful and rewarding way to connect with others. You can also practice this art, all you need is to be sincere and to allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Your connection with others is not created by what you know, but rather by what you offer them.

My 5 tips for developing gratitude:

 1. Keep a journal of gratitude:
Write at regular intervals (one to three times a week) just before you go to sleep and note down five things about you or your life that you are grateful for. I describe something that I’ve achieved in the day and a positive emotion that I can associate with it. Otherwise, the risk is that over time, it becomes a “to-do list” which you will drop.

2. Watch the local news: Although I know that the media has a very selective perspective on the news, I remind myself that I am lucky to live in a country like Switzerland where I feel safe and where politeness and freedom reign.

3. Express appreciation: I make an effort to thank people sincerely for the help they have provided, be it large or small – even if their efforts have not been successful or you feel a bit disappointed. The vast majority of people do the best that they can: whether it’s your husband with the dishes; a parent or mother-in-law who calls to find out your news; a friend who accidentally lets you down; a colleague who upsets you or an employer who gives you a job rejection by phone or email. Appreciate, if possible, the emotion behind their actions.

4. Express gratitude in action: Give generously, just for pleasure and seeking no reward. Okay, it may be out of your comfort zone but that’s how we grow as individuals. Find out from a friend or lost acquaintance how they are doing; volunteer with a local charity; help out your elderly neighbor; fund an NGO or participate in a fundraising cause that you are passionate about. Meet with someone who has had a big impact in your life and sincerely thank them. Life has been generous with you, now it’s your turn to return the favor. This will, in turn, help someone else feel gratitude too.

5. Meditate. I use an app suggested by my friend Sam, which I am very thankful for: Insight Timer. It contains all kinds of exercises which help to reinforce gratitude. This is a great way to compliment the daily journaling.

Here are 3 reasons why I am grateful today:

  • I have a career which fills me with joy
  • I am a happy and fulfilled mother after many years when I thought I would never to be able to  have children
  • I have moved to an apartment which I love after almost three desperate years of searching

But also:

  • the kind smile of an old gentleman on the tram
  • the warm embrace of a friend on her return from vacation
  • the daily support and generosity of my husband

And you? What do you feel grateful for today?

I would love to hear your thoughts and learn what makes you happy! Leave me a comment! And if you need any more help with this, please feel free to contact me for further information.

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