Feeling Overwhelmed? 3 Steps to Take Control

This is when guilt and doubt can begin to plague us while living abroad. All of a sudden, it can seem like we aren’t doing our best, that we are falling short, or that we are not prepared for this challenge. Doubt can begin to make us less adventurous and feel anxiety when we have to move outside of our comfort zone. Then, because we know we have changed and feel differently, guilt starts appearing. We think we should be stronger, that other people are doing what we are avoiding, and that we aren’t being the parent and spouse that we should be.

As a means to reduce anxiety, doubt, and guilt, some people unconsciously develop ways to feel more in control such as:

  • Avoiding learning the local language
  • Avoiding going out independently or interacting with locals
  • Finding fault in everything locals are doing, saying, or how they are behaving
  • Only associating with people “like me,” via a common language, passport color, or dislike of local culture
  • Overindulging children with time, energy, or items to feel like the best parent in the world – using children as an excuse to be busy and avoid getting involved with others
  • Trying to be the perfect spouse (being completely fit, perfectly groomed, running the perfect household, etc.) – being a martyr in the relationship to justify how difficult it is to live abroad
  • Competing with other parents in a race to be happiest person, have the most perfect children,  making the most out of the experience, to volunteer the most, etc. – a means to create a smaller circle of influence and avoid addressing the anxiety the come from self-doubt and guilt

Of course, this isn’t a complete list of all the coping behaviors that may be used. The list covers a few of the most common and potentially problematic actions.  Additionally, it must be noted that some people do not encounter this doubt and guilt. It is a highly personal response.

If you find yourself experiencing any of the behaviors listed above, the following information may be helpful for you

1. In those moments when you feel anxiety rising or self-doubt sneaking in, try to find a moment to disengage and breathe. This can be a quick 1-minute activity.  Sneak off to the car, go to the restroom, or excuse yourself to “take a call”. You just need a minute to center yourself again.

2. Remind yourself that the outcome of this moment does not influence who you are. You are complete and perfect, even in a difficult moment. Be confident that if the parties are working with good intentions, you can come to an agreement or solution to whatever issue you are facing.

Now that last part is important, the “working with good intentions” part. If the entire time a script is running in your head with, “these stupid locals,” or “I am so stupid,” or “I hate this place/person/thing,” then it will be more difficult to find a solution or accomplish your task. During that 1-minute disengagement, try to remove the judgment comments so you can be completely in the moment and unhindered by negativity.

3. Then, do your best. That is all anyone can do. Feel proud and strong about your effort, intent, and follow through.  It doesn’t mean that things will always turn out the way you desire, but it does mean that you have done the most anyone can expect of you. The rest is up to the fate.

It’s normal to seek a sense of control in situations that feel out of control. Just about everyone questions themselves when things don’t work as they think they should. Trying to be a supportive spouse and raise a family in a foreign culture is tough stuff! All of our natural behaviors are based on the norms from our home culture. So when we act with our natural behaviors in a foreign culture and get a completely different response, it can be shocking. In the end, we either question ourselves or the other person.

Having a plan to manage stressful situations that create anxiety or doubt will help you avoid feelings of guilt. You don’t have to limit your interactions nor be a Super Parent or Super Spouse. Just being yourself is perfect.

Knowledge is power

  • Try to think back to an experience you had that played out differently that you desired. 
  • What were your actions in that situation? 
  • Using the strategies listed above, how could you reimagine that interaction today?
  • Would you try anything different?

Share your thoughts and any other strategies you have developed to manage anxiety and doubt.

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