Expats and change fatigue

Expat burnout

  • Have you had enough of moving house /country every couple of years or so?
  • Do you feel tired all the time?
  • Do you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle; like the amount of work you need to do is simply beyond your reach?
  • Are you weary of trying to keep everyone else motivated when all you get in return is resistance and denial?
  • Do you feel like throwing in the towel and heading home?
  • Has it all just got too much?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you, or your loved ones, may be suffering from expat burnout or, to use another phrase, change fatigue.

What is change fatigue?

The first thing you need to know is that this is a recognised condition of the human mind and you are not alone. The changes you need to make are not beyond your reach, you can do this; moving to another country is an amazing opportunity and you are not a failure for sometimes thinking otherwise.

Change fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion, resignation and hopelessness and it happens when we’re bombarded with a series of changes in quick succession and don’t give ourselves the time or the space to make sense of them. Which is exactly what happens when we move abroad, because we just have to get on with things.

Change fatigue is commonly associated with businesses undergoing transitional periods and there is lots of material and advice out there for employees and managers – but what about when the problem is at home and your expat life situation?

Whether we’re talking about a new job, a new home, a new baby or even something as trivial as a new brand of washing powder, change is uncomfortable and as a species we tend to avoid it. We typically build our lives around routine and we feel most secure when our days are structured and invariable. So, by uprooting and moving to a whole other country, you have broken the mould a lot – good for you! Even the most adventurous expats can become fed-up and depressed by the constant pressure our day-to-day life puts upon us.

Now you must learn to change your mind set, embrace change and support those around you to do the same. Easy! (#noteasy)

How to conquer expat burnout

Everyone is different (my mantra!): For many people this expat exhaustion is something that will pass – it may be just another part of expat life we have to get through. Others may find themselves in the grip of depression. Expat depression is real and well documented online.  Please seek medical help if you feel this sounds like your emotional state.

For many people, it may well be the end of the line for expat life. And that is OK too. If homesickness has become too much for you to bear, or if family is calling you back to home for whatever reason, it is not in any way a ‘failure’ for any expat to call it a day and repatriate.

Be kind to yourself

The first step is to give yourself permission to feel uncertain. Feeling a little unsure of your decision to move abroad doesn’t mean it’s wrong and doesn’t mean that you’re going to change your mind, abandon the whole plan and settle for a little house just up the road from your mum and dad. It just means accepting that you don’t have all the answers straight away and that things might not always work out the way you thought they would. Allowing for an element of uncertainty and flexibility gives you much needed breathing space.

Be realistic

Next, you must accept that it’s only possible to deal with changes one at a time. The consequences of overloading your plate is that you undermine your sense of well-being and become overwhelmed and stressed. Be super organised! Make a list of all the things that will change and be systematic in your approach. Set realistic time frames and work towards your goals gradually and one at a time. Keep control of your situation; don’t let your mind run too far ahead. If you give in to the desire to do it all at once then change fatigue will affect your ability to make rational decisions and you’ll start to feel incapable of doing anything at all!

This is a good time to learn to relax!

‘Are you kidding?’ we hear you cry…

This is really important. Learning to enjoy a relaxing pastime, such as yoga, meditation or even crochet or jogging, will provide a constant. And it gives you much needed me-time. Set aside some time every day to relax and let this become a habit – this is something that doesn’t have to change! You can start straight away, maintain it throughout all the chaos of planning and moving and keep it up once you’re established in your new home. It will give you an anchor. Something familiar, enjoyable and stress relieving to see you through the difficulties and help maintain a sense of well-being.

Be gentle with other people

They are going through the change with you – whether they’re moving overseas with you or being left behind – and are also likely to experience change fatigue. Change becomes negative when it is too sudden or too much, when there is no clear direction or vision and when there is fear of the consequences. These things are very relevant to a moving family. Everyone is a little scared of what comes next, whether contact will be regular, how much people will be missed, how well each person will settle, new schools, new jobs etc. so you need to help each other out.

Keep communications open and constant. Have regular mealtimes when you all get together and talk about how you’re feeling. Start this process as early as you can and keep it going before, during and after the move. Encourage complete honesty and allow for fear, sadness and expressions of grief as well as discussions about benefits and excitement. Balance the negatives with positives but don’t try to insist that people are positive all the time. Guide people towards acceptance but don’t push them. Too much too soon is a recipe for disaster.

Do some research

You may find it’s helpful to understand the Kubler-Ross Change Curve.

Kubler Ross change curve
Kubler-Ross change curve model from Cleverism.com

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you build complex business models into your plans; this is a simple diagram that sets out the emotional stages of any change that you can expect from yourself and from others. There are 4 main stages – resistance; denial; exploration; commitment. It’s not dissimilar to the culture shock graph… so take a look at that too.

Be aware that these stages apply to everyone who is affected by the planned move. The teenager who is being stroppy and obstructive about everything you ask him to do =  resistance. The parent who cheerfully makes you tea and chats about everything except the fact that you’re moving away = denial.

This is the downward slope of the change curve – but with good planning, open communication, understanding and patience, things will change. People will begin to talk about the move and explore their fears and feelings (exploration) and with careful handling and lots of encouragement you can move forwards together to commitment – and therein lies the road to happiness.




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  1. How long should I expect to be feeling this way? I’m two months into a year and I’m really struggling with the change

  2. I just moved from Brazil to Netherlands and never felt so sleepy my entire life! Good to know this not happen only to me and I really hope I get used to the new routine and recover my strenghts.

  3. I had not heard this term before but it certainly accurate, although I believe I got past this a long time ago I can certainly recall some of the ‘symptoms’

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