The importance of paying attention to one’s mental health is now more crucial than ever. Expats in particular deal with different forms of stress and anxiety. Research has shown that a major life transition such as geographically moving from one’s native country to a different one is one of the top causes of stress and anxiety–along with death of family and divorce.

Expats deal with moving from one location to another every 3 to 4 years and this is on top of adjusting to a new job, new people, and culture. The lack of a stable support system such as one’s usual friends and family makes it all the more challenging to manage the mental and emotional tolls from such situations.

What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Stress comes in anticipation of a threat. It’s a physiological response. Excessive adrenaline is produced by the body, our heart rate increases and muscles become tensed. Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to hypertension and high blood pressure and for expats, the source is more often emotional and psychological.

Identifying the trigger is easier when we feel stress but catch it early. When we feel anxiety, there is usually no trigger we can identify. We just know we are worried, uncomfortable, and preoccupied with our thoughts. This is the difference between stress and anxiety.

Dealing with stress…

Evaluate your physical condition. Are your shoulders tensed? Is your breathing shallow? These are physical manifestations of stress. To help you slow your breathing, try these techniques:

Take 10 deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling out your mouth. Your belly should expand with every inhale. Focus on your breathing and you should feel your mind slowing down after the 10th exhale.

You can also try deep breathing while clutching a pillow on your chest. Squeeze as tightly as you can when you breath in. Release and breath out.

Running to release tension is also an alternative if you are looking for a high impact activity.

These simple techniques are not the sole solutions but they will help you manage yourself better more quickly.

What about anxiety?

The unknown is the most probable cause of anxiety among expats. It’s a lingering feeling of restlessness or nervousness. In order to start dealing with the situation, it is important to acknowledge the thoughts that continue to bother us. Let these thoughts pass by our minds, and let them go.

Letting go of the thoughts does not equate to inaction but it will help you have have a clearer perspective on which decisions are more important and which ones are merely thoughts.

If no changes are felt or noticed, seek the help of a mental health professional. Here is a list of private psychiatrists in Hong Kong.

Check your health insurance plan if they cover therapy and maintenance drugs. You can also choose to upgrade your existing medical insurance to cover your needs. Contact us to learn more about insurance for expats in Hong Kong.