The expat ‘six month slump’

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When the euphoria wears thin; the 6 month slump

When you type ‘6-month slump’ into Google, the first thing you find is lots of information about nursing mums. No doubt a very important and emotive issue – but not the one we’re here to discuss.

Dig a little deeper through the hundreds of search results and you’ll start to get closer to our concern; you’ll find that 6 months is the make or break time for new relationships, the point at which more than 50% of people fail their New Year’s resolution, the end of the metaphorical ‘honeymoon period’ for a new job, a new house… and of course a new Country.

So, what’s so special about six months and what goes wrong?

Human nature

As an intelligent and rational species, we distract ourselves from things that might cause us concern by keeping busy. Avoidance comes naturally; rather than analyse our feelings and consider what might go wrong right from the beginning of a project, most of us will choose to throw ourselves into it head first and determine that optimism will win the day. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have achieved half as much as we have as a species, so this is actually a good thing!

We use optimism to generate excitement, enthusiasm and energy… all great attributes that help us to sail through the planning and execution of new endeavours. The trouble starts when the ‘honeymoon period’ ends and the excitement and initial enthusiasm give way to routine. New relationships give way to noticing flaws in the object of our affection; new jobs become just jobs; new years’ resolutions become somewhat boring and we lose sight of our objectives and new homes just aren’t new and exciting anymore.

Expat euphoria

Is exactly what it says on the tin… the euphoria (elation, joy) that is felt by expats immediately after their adrenaline-soaked relocation. All the planning and worrying paid off and YOU. MADE. IT! You have a fabulous new home, a new environment to explore and so much unpacking and organising to do that it can keep you busy and fulfilled for months… about 6 of them to be almost precise.

Eventually (and sadly) it’s inevitable that the euphoria will wear off. It was adrenaline-fuelled and therefore, unsustainable. You aren’t on holiday, you’ve moved and life goes on – so you fall prey to a number of different emotions all at once.

It’s very much like any new relationship. After the initial dizzy heights of infatuation, it tapers off to a more comfortable, satisfying emotion. Alternatively, it may turn into the kind of emotion that screams, “This is not the one for me!” It’s not a come-down as much as a change of direction, for better or for worse.

The come-down

After every high, natural or otherwise, there comes a period of feeling flat, or even low. For expats, this can be particularly frustrating; you want to hang on to your excitement but it gets swept away in a tide of routine, cultural fatigue and even anger at the little things that still aren’t quite right.

Maybe you’ve not picked up the language as quickly as you wanted, or you don’t love your new job or your new home after all. Perhaps culture shock has hit you harder than expected, or your children are struggling with the school culture, or the heat is really getting to you, or, or, or…

It doesn’t matter how carefully you planned; when you make a decision of this magnitude you feel like it has to be perfect and when it’s not, it hurts.

The harsh reality is that this is the time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and give yourself a stern talking to. You started this adventure because you wanted to embrace a change – so get out there and embrace it!

Easier said than done

Yes, most things are – but that doesn’t make them impossible. Lighten up; give yourself a break and remember how you used to laugh at things that went wrong. Think back to all the packing and planning over six months ago, that didn’t all run smoothly did it? You didn’t change your mind though, because this is where you wanted to be!

Humour and a little self-depreciation can be a welcome change from over thinking so challenge yourself; laugh when you feel like you want to cry (but cry when you need to), accept that you’re not perfect, call home if you want to but do it with optimism and hope for a better day tomorrow… this is your life; you chose to be here.

What else can you do?

  • Talk to other expats and learn from their experience. They’ll reassure you that far from meaning you’ve made the wrong decision the 6-month slump is just that – a temporary blip that you will move through. All things pass.
  • Take some time out to relax. You’ve been so busy, you deserve a break.
  • Be realistic. Six months isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things. Why should you feel totally settled? Why should you have embraced every aspect of the local culture? Why should you not miss your old life, your family and friends?
  • Set yourself some small and achievable goals. Cheat if you must – shopping is a necessity so make it a goal for the day if you’re feeling low. Or, if you feel up to it, push yourself a little and go to a local leisure facility.
  • Explore your new home in more depth. Do some touristy things to remind yourself how amazing this new place is.

The important thing is to go at your own pace and in your own time. You’ve finished unpacking, researching, helping your family to settle in, finding new schools, nurseries, clubs etc, and now you have time for you. It’s time to decide how you will make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

You’ve heard the saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ – well a new life can’t be built in 6 months but you’re laying the foundations with every new day you get through, so embrace the challenge and take your time.

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  1. This helps so much to face what we may once we get there. Once it’s all unpacked, checked in, put away and registered, I can’t imagine the readjustment. This validation that it’s normal for the luster to wear off makes sense, but the awareness is comforting once we face it, we don’t have to settle for it.

  2. Totally agree! The important thing is knowing it’s going to happen to you and recognizing that it’s completely normal. We also wrote about the 6 month adjustment period (and experienced it ourselves) on our blog.

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