Moving overseas is a massive and sudden change. Living overseas is the process of adapting to a million smaller changes, one day at a time. And, guess what? Change = stress.
Don’t get me wrong, stress is not necessarily bad for us. Without some pressure in our lives, we stagnate. We need external and internal challenges to help focus us, motivate us, and keep us stretching, learning, and growing in life.
However, too much stress can overwhelm us — at least temporarily. Most of us who have moved overseas have experienced days (weeks? months?) when we felt close to breaking or completely overwhelmed by the experience. And what do we tend to do when we’re feeling overwhelmed?
We tend to reach for things that bring us comfort (familiar foods, routines, languages, etc.). And we tend to spend all our “coping energy” navigating the external ins and outs of our new lives, and then take out our fatigue and frustrations on those closest to us.
What does this mean for our most important relationships?
Well, many people communicate quite well with their loved ones when life’s skies are sunny and it is all smooth sailing. However, when clouds roll in and the wind picks up, it can be a different story.
When you are juggling pressures and demands related to work, family, travel, health, and finances, it’s easy to end up feeling tired and stressed. This is especially true when you are doing all of this in a new country, surrounded by new routines, landscapes, and people. And when you are tired and stressed, misunderstandings and conflicts with loved ones can arise as quickly as summer storms.
You might find yourself getting annoyed more easily. Or arguing more frequently. Or speaking to your close friends or loved ones in a curt, impatient tone you’d never use on a work colleague.
On the other side of the coin, you can find yourselves confused and frustrated by your friend’s or spouse’s moods, words, and actions. You can feel helpless to know how to approach them or what to do or say.
Either way, the very relationship(s) that you count on to help sustain you can become another draining source of tension, right when you need them the most.
One of the best things you can do to make these times easier is to discuss these dynamics with your family and friends when you are not tired or stressed. The better you understand how each of you typically thinks or feels during times of stress and pressure, the better you will be able to encourage and support each other during those extra-stressful times.
Here are 10 questions you can talk over with your spouse, family, and close friends. Take your time with these and really delve into the details. Discussing these questions on good days (and definitely before a big move) will yield big dividends on bad days for years to come.
- What are the biggest sources of stress or pressure in your life right now?
- Where is the biggest mismatch in your life right now between what you believe and how you are acting?
- Do you feel “out of balance” in any area of life right now? What are those areas?
- When you feel stressed, how does that show up in how you interact with other people?
- When you are under pressure, what are some of your “early warning” signs of stress?
- When you become aware of your early warning signs, what do you do to help prevent your stress from growing?
- What are some of your typical self-care and coping strategies when you are stressed, tired, or anxious? (Make sure you think about coping strategies you use that are “good for you” and those that “aren’t so good for you.”)
- What are one or two things that help you manage stress and pressure that you want to be able to do more often?
- When you are struggling, how can your friend or spouse best help you? What are good ways to approach you and good questions to ask you when you’re stressed?
- Since caring for yourself is foundational to being able to care well for your important relationships, how can your friend or spouse encourage you to take care of yourself?
Originally published February 26, 2016