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.

If it is “back home”, why is it so hard?

Some people naturally thrive when change comes to them. They look forward to it, they feel invigorated by it. They love learning new languages, survival techniques, cooking styles and social mannerisms. However, many of these natural thrivers with fantastic adaptative skills are shocked when they go home, often the hardest environmental challenge to get adapted to. Why does this happen? This time it is not an adaptation process, it is a re-adaptation one, and all those skills that were used to expand and explore are not of that much use when they go to a land they know very well: their homeland.

At home you already know the language, the way things work there, the food, the social mannerisms…. There is less excitement and novelty and not so much to adapt to. But there is sure plenty of things to re-adapt to. Often intrepid entrepreneurs and business people who attain great goals abroad despite all odds and inconveniences find that they are not motivated to achieve the same results back home. Mothers who successfully raise children in very foreign land find it difficult to do so “at home” and students who overcome every hurdle away from home become demotivated when they return to their home countries.

“Oh no! This time we have to go HOME!!!”

People become different people while they are abroad. In many cases things are way harder to accomplish there since not so much family, friend or government support is available, so people sort of become goal oriented warriors who once “go home” can quickly become unsatisfied and frustrated. Their universe has expanded and now the idea of going back to normal feels very unappealing. They have developed and trained all those fabulous skills that now at home can’t be put to use, even so to the point that part of themselves might on some level feel sort of useless. Everything seems too different to them, and depending how far they got on their own personal life training abroad they might not be able to do that well once they are back home, where everything was supposed to be simpler and easier.

A re-adaptation process usually deals more with internal forces and circumstances than with external ones. If you are going home you need a different strategy than the one you used to adapt abroad.

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.

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!

Why a website about Reverse Culture Shock?

Welcome back home!

If you are at this website you probably know by personal experience that Reverse Culture Shock SUCKS!! It does, a lot, actually. But hey, you have come to the right place, a supportive environment to all returnee expats that are experiencing different RCS symptoms. It doesn’t matter what your case looks like, we got resources and ideas for you to make your life easier and make you feel better.

Please email me all your concerns, questions and ideas at howtosurvivercs@gmail.com, I want to serve you by addressing these issues and finding solutions to them, together. Feel free to check out our many  videos and stories from fellow returnee expats. I hope you find this place useful in your own re-adjusting process and that it helps you put together a plan that works for you in your re-adaptation process. Don’t forget to come back often for updates and more useful resources as well as moral support from our community!

Supportively and understandingly,

Elena