Leaving Home: The Emotional & Mental Impact Of Emigration

5 Saffa Emigration Tips For Avoiding Expat Burnout

Moving abroad is not an easy decision. In fact, you’d prepared yourself quite well for the task ahead. You’ve consulted friends, family, specialists in their field – you’ve weighed up all the pros and cons and you’re a hundred percent certain that this has been the right move.

But despite all this, there are aspects of relocation which you cannot quite prepare for.

Rand Rescue takes a look at the emotional and mental impact of leaving home and gives you some emigration tips on dealing with the “great trek”, whether you’re still planning on moving abroad or have already emigrated.

Let go

One of the hardest parts of relocating is undoubtedly having two feet in different countries. And as much as most of us would like to keep ties with our homes, there are emotional drawbacks to living your life on different shores simultaneously. 

Psychologists equate emigration to the effects of divorce or broken homes in children and this stress makes expats five times as likely to suffer damaging emotional and mental stress as well as falling into anti-social behaviour. As with broken homes, the stress is not necessarily from having two homes, but due to the disparities between these homes.

Once you’ve moved abroad, you’ll find it ever harder to reconcile the rules, environments and behaviours of your two different countries, and this places undue stress on your mind and body. You find yourself torn between two homes which you love dearly – and the price is often a breakdown of emotional and mental stability.

Although it may not be something you want to hear, coping with emigration may require you to take an objective approach and set up coping mechanisms for these emotions. Among these coping mechanisms is conditioning your mind to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. In order to cope with the disparities as well as the separation anxiety, it is necessary to focus on your immediate surroundings and environment and to adjust your thinking to exclude hurtful or harmful thoughts which places you at odds with your old home or stirs up feelings of loss.

Whenever you find yourself pining for your home, focus on the good you have now and find tasks and hobbies to occupy your time. Pretty soon it will be easier to think of South Africa as well as your new home in a positive way.

Make time

Further to the eternal country-tussle, emigration and immigration are draining and time-consuming experiences. Between the admin, finding your feet around the streets and the office, cosseting your children and playing homemaker with a limited budget, you’ll soon find a great chasm has formed between you and your loved ones.

The strain and time consumed by relocating can create a tremendous divide between family members and children, so it’s imperative that you set up time with the individuals who are part of your life, whether they have relocated with you or are living back home. Make this a frequent and non-negotiable calendar entry for each person – a date with the wife, a movie with your daughter, a football match with your son, a weekly call back home with mum. These things may not seem necessary at first, but you’ll find it invaluable in the long run. Relationships can unravel without us being aware of their fraying – so take a proactive approach and circumvent unnecessary strain in your relationships.

Take time

Although it’s important to make time it’s also necessary to take time. You are going through a tremendous change and this will invariable bring out rather quirky and unexpected changes in yourself, those who have moved with you as well as those who are left behind.

Give everyone time to adjust to the change and to work through the grief of their loss and separation. Be cognisant of emotional changes in those closest to you and sensitive to their needs as well as your own needs. The grief of moving abroad is a draining process which cannot be rushed and the assimilation into your new life is equally protracted and exhausting.

Be sure to make this point clear to your loved ones whenever possible and ensure them that the emotions and turmoil they are experiencing is a temporary situation – nurture a sense of empathy and collaboration in working through these changes and allow each person their own measure of grief and coping.

Unlock those doors

It’s a strange feeling – this new environment with its new rules and strange new sights and sounds. But however strange it may be, you must force yourself to change your behaviours and paradigms to suit this new place.

Learn to unlock those doors! Open your life to new experiences, tastes and cultures and live outside the rules of your previous life. Although you should take time to acclimatise, it’s necessary to step outside your comfort zone and to integrate into your new community.

Psychologists believe that frequently opening ourselves to new experiences eventually become the norm which better equips us for future changes of environment and relieves perpetual stress responses when introduced to new stimuli or experiences.

Don’t play the blame game

You’ve been part of it, haven’t you? Perhaps you’ve been attacked online, or maybe you’ve been the instigator. We’re talking about the relentless war of words between individuals on different sides of the fence, border or political spectrum.

It’s a nasty place out there and the expat vs. local game on social media is particularly damaging and traumatic. Make a choice to distance yourself from those opinions that differ from yours and don’t try to justify your decisions or change someone else’s mind. There is significant angst and animosity between the different saffas across the globe and this animosity is utterly unnecessary.

Understand that online venting and hostility is neither a true reflection of others’ opinions, nor are these expressions or utterances the right platform to try and defuse situations or change others. Step away from hurtful status updates, from the incessant nagging of family back home and don’t be tempted to flaunt your new life in front of the faces of those who cannot afford to, are fearful of, or simply don’t want to leave South Africa.

Let us relieve your stress

Rand Rescue can take some of the stress of moving abroad from your shoulders. We specialise in managing financial affairs of South African expats, whether foreign exchange, transfer of retirement funds or financial emigration. Talk to specialists with a 100% success rate who know the ins- and outs- of the financial services sectors across the globe.

Register