Three tips to avoid relocation depression
January 25, 2018
“Human nature is always fond of novelty” observed the Roman author Pliny. It is an observation borne out by the experiences of hundreds of thousands of expatriates all over the world. Differences in lifestyle, leisure and modes of business – whether it’s the politeness of Japanese service staff or street food in Southeast Asia – are often satisfying for no other reason than that they are new.
Sadly, these novel, positive experiences often run alongside emotional issues that a significant number of expats anecdotally experience. Isolation from support networks such as friends and family often further add to this problem, and its prevalence has even given rise to a neologism: “relocation depression.”
Looking at expat-focused message boards shows these are by no means isolated cases. Questions about depression are common, with users typically asking others whether they have experienced the same (they usually have), how long it will take to overcome and what steps the expat can take to improve their emotional well-being.
There is a small but increasing body of literature that deals with relocation depression. This is perhaps unsurprising, what we see as homesickness is something we feel is overcome individually and in good time, but it is an attitude that ignores the health effects of depression, such as weight fluctuations and lethargy.
So what steps can expats take to avoid relocation depression in advance of their relocation?
1. Stick to a regular exercise routine
As you’ve heard countless times already, regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle are demonstrably proven to help combat the symptoms of depression, particularly lethargy.
However, organizing an exercise routine after a relocation can be significantly more difficult, and unfamiliarity with local fitness facilities can lead to inactivity.
Best practice is to have a rudimentary idea of your plans before you relocate. Bear in mind this is going to be very location-specific – some destinations may be ideal for urban jogging or even regular hiking (Lantau island in Hong Kong, an increasingly popular for expats, is one example), while other areas may not offer such opportunities and require a local gym membership instead.
2. Maintain a circle of friends who are culturally similar
While avoiding the dreaded “expat bubble” and engaging with local people is important, it is also important (and less emphasized in expat literature) to have a comfort zone of your own you can return to.
Having a group of friends who are culturally similar will essentially act as your home away from home. Your reason for wanting this may vary, perhaps you value the opportunity to use your native language, or talk about news from back home with like-minded people. Regardless, wanting a social circle that reflects where you’re from is understandable.
If you’re relocating on your own and not sure where to start; your home country’s embassy, consulate, or even chamber of commerce will often host community events. Acquaint yourself with where their premises are and a timetable of their activities for the next few months after you arrive.
3. Identify how obtainable necessities from home are
What would you miss most about moving abroad? It’s a difficult question and requires more forethought than you would initially imagine. Part of the problem prospective expats face is that they are not actually sure which items from home are difficult to obtain at their destination to begin with.
To tackle this there’s no better method than simple word of mouth. Ask other expats living to where you’re planning to relocate how difficult it is to buy food you regularly buy back home. More importantly, identify some local shops or supermarkets in what will become your local neighborhood that seem best suited to catering to your needs.
This is all straightforward advice, but it’s important to be mindful of how much time can be lost by wandering expats; aimlessly looking for a supermarket that stocks a specific brand of yoghurt or type of cheese.