Tips for Expats in Covid Lockdowns

Expats can do several things to give themselves some measure of relief from the misery of Covid lockdowns.

For most of us, March 2020 was the beginning of a long series of “lockdowns” or significant social restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It was hard, but we got through it. But, this second wave of lock downs feels entirely different. You feel miserable and plagued with a sense of hopelessness. It’s like you’re standing on the edge of an abyss that doesn’t seem to have a bottom. You may be wondering “When does it end?” “When do I get to go about my life normally?” “Oh my gosh, what is normal anymore?”

You may be wondering, why does the second round of restrictions feel so much more oppressive than the first? Especially as an Expat living abroad.

Side of a building in Cape Town South Africa that says Stay home #stop the spread. Begin online therapy for expats in South Africa with an online therapist from Apricity Behavioral Health who also offers online therapy for expats throughout the worl…Here’s why: It’s two things. First, COVID stole our ability to anticipate positive things. It’s no longer safe to look forward to fun things. Nothing is a given anymore.  And we have no idea when it will be safe to look forward to fun stuff again.We like anchoring our life around events that we anticipate; PCSing, going home, holidays, weddings, graduations, trips, drinks with friends, dinner out, etc. We’ve given ourselves healthy doses of anticipation our whole lives. Who can forget the awesomeness of anticipating the last day of school or Christmas break? We counted down the weeks, days, and hours until we were excused from school. It was so exciting!  Anticipation gives us the ability to slog through the stuff we don’t want to do in order to get to the thing that we do want. Without it, we lose some of our ability to suck it up and get through it.

You were prepared for the first lockdown, but not the second, it was supposed to be over by now!

We anticipated (rightly or wrongly) that if we got through the first lockdown, life would return to normal.  It was this anticipation that led us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Whether it was cleaning out the garage or binging Netflix, there was a sense of “I’m going to take advantage of this because we don’t know how long it’s going to last.” The implication was that we’d get back to being our busy selves in no time. It was exciting to do all the things we normally don’t have time to do! But, as the months wore on, that sense of “this will be over soon” waned. And with it went our motivation to “take advantage of this time because it’ll be over soon. The second reason why this feels awful is that we’re now faced with even more uncertainty and disappointment. Now that we’re faced once again with the reality and fear of a second-wave and lockdowns or restrictions that disappointment is eating away at our mental wellbeing. Although significant progress has been made regarding the development and approval of a vaccine, it’s still not readily available to all and there’s no definite timeline of when it will be. So we really don’t know when our life will return to “normal.” Furthermore, we don’t really even know what post-COVID normal will be? Our brains like things to be certain. We crave black and white thinking and struggle with grey areas. Uncertainty drives us crazy. Why? When things are uncertain our brain doesn’t know how to categorize things. If it can’t categorize information, it gets stuck. It’s when we “don’t know what to think” and we ruminate and think about it over and over again. The byproduct of this is anxiety and stress. On a primal level, that anxiety and stress are supposed to fuel us to make a decision, allow the brain to categorize the information and move on. The brain is desperate to move on. COVID and our brains are in opposition. COVID isn’t allowing us to move on, even though our brain really wants us to.  

What You Can Do to Prevent Depression and Anxiety as an Expat Living in Your Host Country During Lockdown

There are several things you can do to give you some relief from feeling miserable in lockdown. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not realistic to believe your stress and anxiety will disappear. The goal is to shorten the intensity and duration. Reassure yourself that The end is in sight. It is now safe to tell your brain that the pandemic will end. Your brain can classify this as a certainty. We can reality check this against science. Think About The Things You Are Certain About This does not negate or minimize all of the uncertainty. It’s just refocusing our brain and showing it that it is getting some of the black and white thinking it craves. The Marshmallow Test Remember the old experiment where, if the kid doesn’t eat the marshmallow in front of him now, there’s the promise of greater candies to come. This is a very long, very intense exercise in delayed gratification. You’ve been in front of that proverbial marshmallow for a looooong time. Reframe the experience as an elaborate life lesson on the importance of delayed gratification. Think about all the amazing things you can do in your host country when the lockdown is lifted. Give Yourself Daily Things to Look Forward To and Anticipate Sticking with the marshmallow, delayed gratification imagery, give yourself things to anticipate. If the marshmallow kid had to be alone with that marshmallow for a long time, he probably would’ve done something like, “Ok, when the clock says 10:15, I’m going to run around the room.” Time passes, “When the clock says 10:30, I’ll scream bad words as loud as I can.” This allows him to not touch the marshmallow because there is the promise of a small reward after a set period of time. The child may be doing things he wouldn’t normally do for rewards, but he’s not touching the marshmallow. If you’re struggling to get through the day, give yourself something to look forward to daily. Something along the lines of, “I’m looking forward to working on my crafty stuff this afternoon, but first I need to vacuum.” If you’re doing ok, but want to be better, set weekly benchmarks. For example, look forward to ordering take out from a bistro in your host county on Friday after a week of cooking. Dream Away! Go ahead and envision that trip you want to take to explore your host country. Envision the trip home you want to take and people you want to see, etc. Allow yourself to fantasize about all the positive things that await you. Bring that fantasy into the real world by creating a vision board. The point is to allow yourself to fantasize about all the amazing things that you can do on the other side of the pandemic. If You’re Still Struggling, Consider Global Online Therapy for Expats When you feel completely overwhelmed and miserable, consider global online therapy. At Apricity Expat Therapy, our team of online therapists caters our services to meet the needs of expats specifically. We do this because we’re expats ourselves so we recognize and understand the unique challenges you experience. Therefore, we made it our mission to provide you with a secure, private, and unique online therapy experience wherever you are in the world.

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