How to deal with emotional overload when experiencing Reverse Culture Shock

Repatriates not only experience information overload, but also emotional overload. It is only normal that you are getting tons of emotional input and are getting tons of emotional reactions to all the new changes in your life as a result. They don’t call it Reverse Culture Shock for no reason, it is certainly a shock! Perfectly rational people can easily turn into drama queens when this happens, so if you are a bit emotional already by nature this can be such a roller coaster. Remember: it is ok! All your life, all the things and places and people around you have just changed almost all of a sudden, so it is to be expected to feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Too much change all at the same time can also get you into “freeze” mode, so here’s what you can do about emotional overload so it doesn’t control you.

  First: It is you who controls your situation in most cases despite your new circumstances. Many times we expats, who have dealt with much more difficult and complex situations abroad feel confused by the way things happen at home and we just can’t seem to connect the dots because we are missing one or two and that can generate a big, big and frustrating amount of emotions (not the nice kind, usually). Sadness, anger, irritability, feeling useless… all those pesky Reverse Culture Shock symptoms come up. Breathe deeply. You are above this. You can do it. You have done much more than this before, and you will laugh about this sometime in the near future.

Second: You do not need to deal with everything at the same time. Remember how you adjusted abroad? You didn’t arrive and with a snap of your fingers become a perfectly adjusted member of that society, did you? You took it one thing at a time. I know, since you are “at home” you feel like you should be able to just fit there perfectly, but that rarely happens when you have lived abroad for an extended amount of time. Relax. You need to develop that kind of mindset again, like you are in a foreign land again. Approach it like “I am going to focus my effort adjusting in this aspect this week, and then on that one next week”, and that is how you can do it much more efficiently than spilling all over trying to get everything done at the same time.  

Third: Take a break when the emotions are a bit too much, creating some space and distance. A buffer area or time will give you some perspective and the ability to collect yourself much better instead of just trying to do so while you are not ready. If you try to do things when you are unprepared for them you will be wasting energy and getting tired and washed away, controlled by all this emotional stimuli. Sometimes however, it feels good to let that bull take you on an intense bull ride, and it might just be what you need to shake your emotions off. Keep in mind though that those professional bull riders can usually manage to get about 9 seconds rides. Get your emotional fix and go back to normal, otherwise you risk getting drained or caught into a negativity spiral, and you know you need your energy to take on the re-adaptation challenge you are facing.

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Save energy: know the difference between what you can change and what you can’t

There is a saying that goes something similar to this:

“Give me the courage to deal with the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference between those two.”

In other words, try not to go crazy or obsess about things you can’t do anything about, there is no point and you will only waste your valuable energy in them when you should have a much clearer plan defined and putting that energy into it. Next time that you go like “AAARGH!” or “I can’t do this!” ask yourself in which two of the categories it falls, and then decide if you can do something about it or you can just kick back and relax about it.

There is also that other saying that goes something like this:

“Don’t worry. If there is something you can do about it, do it, and if there is nothing to do about it, don’t do anything. But either way, do not worry. Worry is useless.”

I say whoever said that probably never had to go through Reverse Culture Shock. Or maybe he or she did and that is where that saying comes from, from a very wise RCS survivor. In any case I find it to be terrific advice and I hope you can use it and make your life easier.

For those around you, send them this video so they can understand you better

Today’s post is for the people who surround you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, bosses or just people around you because they are also Reverse Culture Shock sufferers in the sense that they see that you have changed and they are a bit confused about it too. They may be a little surprised about how you are acting on those days in which everything is new and strange back home, so send this video to them. Let them know that if we have a support group is because although going back home seems easy, it sometimes is not, and that you are trying hard, using resources to get “back to normal” while integrating 2 or more cultures in you so that you can function properly. This is a re-adjustment period for you and for them too, it takes some time and we all could benefit from a little understanding from those around you. They are also sort of going through some shock because they have not seen you in a while and although you don’t notice it in you that much, you have changed. So please be understanding towards them too, they have not seen or lived what you have and they just want you to feel at home again.

My own case of Reverse Culture Shock

The cover frame describes my reaction to Reverse Culture Shock!

Here are other people’s stories to their own experiences about Reverse Culture Shock and what it was like for them:

Ava Apollo describes on her travel blog how it was going back to Southern California after living in Taipei, Jill Wrenn talks about life back in Atlanta after living in the UK for 7 years, Olena and Qian, both from VOA’s Student Union dish about differences between the US and their home countries: Ukraine and China.

I want to know, what was it like for you to go back home? What were your main issues? Send me an email at howtosurvivercs@gmail.com and tell me!

How to avoid feeling overwhelmed when you go back home

Here is a short video on how to stop circling thoughts in our heads and get down to re-adaptation business! With so many things going on at the same time and so many things to face and start doing t is perfectly normal that you feel overwhelmed. If you are a returnees who is suffering from RCS you probably don’t feel very energetic or positive and then it is easy for the things in your to do list just keep circling and circling in your head, getting amplified with every spin. The more time it goes by without them getting done the more stressed you feel, and you could get into a spiral of not doing-worry-not doing.

Stop, take a minute right now to calm down, grab a planner and start getting those typical 5 to 9 issues that are bothering you (you know, finding a school for the kids or a nanny, a suitable place to live in, getting a car or a new job, finding a vet for your pet, getting all the paperwork done…) out of your head and in paper or in an electronic planner (Google Calendar and Doit are fantastic!) or just get a paper planner if you are more comfortable with it. Who said going home wasn’t a trip? Moleskine does planners apart from the classic travel notebooks to keep you classy back home too. Get excited about your planner, it allows you to organize your life the way you want to!

If you have kids or a significant other who is going through re-adaptation, get them organizers, you will be amazed how this simple tool can enormously help you and them when feeling RCS anxiety. If you are still at your host country start putting everything down and it will give you a sense of purpose and continuity in time without much of a disruption even before you get there, and if you are already home your planner can unfreeze you and put you into motion with clear objectives and deadlines.

Once you start putting everything down you will see that it will all start taking shape in your head and that things are actually much more manageable than you thought. You will realize that some of your to do things are much easier to solve than you thought, that others will take care of themselves, or that maybe you do not need to take care of some of them for now. As you start getting things done everything around you will start falling into place and you will be much more confident and relaxed.

Focus on the bigger picture and don’t get caught in the small stuff

When you allow yourself to miss too much the little things from your host country (your favorite brand of cereal, the morning air…) you prevent yourself from appreciating the little things and the bigger things you have in front of you at home. Also when you focus too much on the little things that annoy you from back home (bad customer service, obnoxious people…) you are wasting energy by getting caught in the little hurdles, and making yourself more miserable. Doing these things could is a way of expressing your longing for your host country, but deep down you are using these things as excuses to allow yourself to feel bummed. However, it is just too easy to get caught on these “little trees” and feel stuck. Focusing instead on the big trees that of the forest you have in front of you and realize it is also made of little things that can be lovely, fun and interesting, even if they are from home, will make you feel better and more in tune with your surroundings. It is funny to think about how returnees we seem to transition much easily if we focus our energy on bigger trees. You would think it would be easier to transition with the little things, but human nature often proves picky and difficult when it is about the details and brave and wise when it is about the bigger stuff. So make a choice: are you going to be picky and difficult or are you going to be brave and wise? In other words: are you going to make it hard for you to re-adapt and feel miserable because of small stuff or are you going to step up to the challenge and feel empowered by it? I want to hear your thoughts about this! Email me at howtosurvivercs@gmail.com or comment below!

General resources for expats

Just because you are going home it doesn’t mean you have to function the way you used to there a while back. You have changed and acquired different needs and wants, and trying to fly with what you used before might not make the cut you are looking for these days. So what do you do?

Most likely there are some expats from your host country or from other countries at your home city or area. These people have already adapted there to a certain extent, and have probably used services and products and have their opinions formed about them, so get in touch with them and ask them about the resources they use for everything you might need or want, and their reviews to see if they would make a good fit for what you are looking for.

From finding a new job to getting imported groceries or goods, expats in your city have a wealth of information that you can benefit from, and many are really eager to help you. They can hook you up with sports clubs, women’s associations, established playgroups for children…Tap into their field knowledge of the area to save time and resources finding what you want and profit from their experiences as users or consumers.

Considering yourself an expat (even though you are technically “from there”) can significantly help you ease back home when it comes to logistics and settling, getting things organized and set for you to re-start your life. Your local friends and family can be of great help assisting you with information, but unless they are expats themselves, the type of information they can offer is probably mostly “local” information, which is great and necessary as well for you to successfully re-adapt. Try to mesh these two type of information and groups, the expats and the locals, in order to create an environment that suits your needs and wants in order to make a much smoother transition for yourself.

Don’t forget all the resources that you used when you lived abroad, there are plenty of great companies that can make your life easier back home just like they did outside of your home country. If you used Cragislist.org or similar ones, or got help from the Chamber of Commerce or from business groups or Meetup.com groups abroad, don’t stop just because you are home! These resources also exist back home and you can take advantage of them like another expat, like Expatexpress or check out this fantastic list that ExpatsUnite put together. A good place to start even before you go back is Sharon Gilor’s specific and complete relocation guide. Google the name of your city + expats or expats services or expat products and see what comes up. Also, don’t forget to email me the best resources you know of so I can put up here your personal recomnendations in the blog and other expats can use them! Thank you!