Culture shock affects every expat at some point. Even if your move abroad is purely out of desire. Preparedness is key. Recognizing the emotional, social and physical symptoms of culture shock — along with tools to cope — will ease your transition and set you up for success in your new foreign home.
Emotional Symptoms of Culture Shock
- Feelings of nostalgia and sadness for your country of origin. Missing family, friends and activities you used to do.
- Loneliness, isolation and a sense of “not belonging” in your new country.
- Feelings of doubt, disappointment, guilt or regret at the challenges of living abroad.
- Constant thoughts of wanting to go back to your home country.
- Fear, anxiety and nervousness when facing the unknown.
- Inability to be present. To enjoy new situations and new experiences.
- Feeling negative about the future.
- Constant comparison of the lifestyle and circumstances between your home country and your new country.
Physical symptoms of Culture Shock
- Loss of energy, physical tiredness, fatigue.
- Change in sleep patterns — insomnia, narcolepsy, nightmares.
- Shift in eating habits — eating disorders, eating in excess or loss of appetite.
- Pain in one or several parts of the body with no obvious physical cause.
- Hair loss or skin ailments.
- Gastrointestinal disorders.
- Development of new allergies
Social symptoms of Culture Shock
- Difficulty communicating due to a language barrier.
- Challenges making friends and getting to know people.
- Emergence or increased shyness and insecurity in social settings and interpersonal encounters.
- Inability to understand cultural and social differences.
- Difficulties integrating that result in further loneliness and isolation
How These Symptoms Might Appear in Everyday LifeClearly culture shock affects multiple areas of your well being. Further, challenges in one area may interact and amplify difficulties in others.
- You miss friends, family and activities you used to do before you moved.
- That sadness keeps you from exploring activities in your new country.
- Failure to engage in enjoyable pastimes makes it difficult to form new friendships.
- The lack of friends starts to isolate you socially.
- This isolation feeds your sense of loneliness and feeling like “you don’t belong here.”
- Inner turmoil increases, keeping you awake at night.
- Your increasing fatigue aggravates your nervousness, causing appetite loss.
- The stress on your body diminishes energy further.
- This physical depletion makes you less able to invest yourself socially.
- Loneliness increases even more.
- You become even more convinced “you don’t belong here.”
- You obsess even more about the life you had before your move.
Tools to Help You CopeClearly, culture shock can be painfully intense. And serious. Untreated, symptoms can degrade into depression, anxiety or other health problems. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move abroad! The opportunities for self-discovery that comes from living in a foreign country are truly one of a kind. The important thing to remember is these kinds of symptoms are a completely normal part of your adaptation process. It’s when they persist that they become a problem. Preparedness is key. Even before you move, there are many things you can to do cope with culture shock. With awareness — and perhaps a bit of professional help — culture shock will be nothing more than a temporary component of a fantastic foreign adventure.
Irene Paola Garza Del Valle ~ Integrative Psychotherapy ~ Specializing in expats and multicultural couples and families
Born and raised in Mexico, I now live in Seville, Spain. I have counseled people from 11 countries and 5 continents both in person and virtually.
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