Living Abroad During a Pandemic: How to Lessen your Overwhelm

What a crazy time to be living abroad… Actually, scratch that, what a crazy time to be a human being anywhere!

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This pandemic has propelled me into a really weird funk – and I can’t be the only one.

It’s been 3 years since I made my big move to Canada and, pre-pandemic, I’d finally found a sense of routine and normality. Now, I find myself on the other side of the world from my loved ones during a global crisis. Powerless and full of guilt. I am suddenly moving my career to my home, isolated from friends, and surrounded by endless time to anxiously reflect on my life.

This week, I decided to reach out to other expats who inspire me to see how they are coping and what they can share about their experiences abroad during this outbreak. Shoutout to the wonderful Author, Rachael Lynn (@athomewithin) and Expat & Travel Coach, Lauren (@laurenonlocation).
If you’re struggling, I hope the advice we share and my free journaling exercises in this post can ease some of the dreaded pandemic overwhelm. After all, you are definitely not alone in how you’re feeling!

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve gone through a rollercoaster of emotions:

  • Stage 1 – Denial: People need to calm down, they are totally overreacting.
  • Stage 2 – Optimistic Acceptance: Wow, this is actually a big deal. I should stay at home – But that’s OK, bring it on! I can get so much done and be really productive.
  • Stage 3 – Anxious Meltdown: I hate all of this ‘unknown’. I need to stop watching the news so much and going down the online conspiracy rabbit holes. I’m useless and not making the most of this time. These regular bouts of panic can’t be normal.
  • Stage 4 – Impatience: When will this all be over? Will we ever go back to ‘normal’? I’m restless and confused.
  • And now, Stage 4 Surrender: I’ve accepted that this state of ‘uneasiness’ is a part of everyday life and that it is completely normal to feel this way.

It’s important to understand that, during this pandemic, any and all feelings that you’re experiencing are OK. People are reacting in a million different ways. You have to remember to give yourself a break. 

Here are my reminders to you:

It’s OK if you’re having an identity crisis.

You’ve spent so long planning your move and/or building a new life abroad. Perhaps you’d finally started to figure out who you ‘are’ in your new home country and feel content. Now you find yourself sitting at home feeling confused about what you want from life, your career, your relationships. Have you made the right decisions? Are you craving for things to go back to how they ‘were’, or are you thinking of using this time to pivot and ‘reset’ your life? There is no right or wrong answer! You can use this time to deeply listen and learn more about yourself.

Lauren (@laurenonlocation) says: “Oh boy, I’ve learned SO much about myself already during this quarantine. This pandemic really hit at an interesting time for me, as I was already on an intense journey of self-discovery and focusing on my true intentions for this expat life of mine.

I had just recently moved back to Madrid weeks before Spain’s strict lockdown was announced, and so needless to say, like many others out there, my plans involuntarily changed. There have been good days, bad days, awful days, and everything in between. But, in the face of everything that’s been going on, I think this has been one hell of a learning experience for us all.”

COVID-19 has turned everyday life on its head and tossed us into a new normal. It’s completely understandable that this pandemic will set in motion new ideas and needs within us. There is nothing wrong with exploring those ideas and using this time to reflect on who you are, what you want, and even new changes that you want for your life. Panic doesn’t need to come along with this! Embrace this time to figure it all out.

It’s OK if your homesickness has flared up (again)

Do you feel like you’ve taken a HUGE step backwards? Perhaps you thought that you’d finally gotten over homesickness and settled into your new life. Now, it’s hit you again like a double-decker bus. You’re worried about people back home. International travel is impossible so you’d be powerless if something were to happen to a loved one. You miss your home country and wish you could be there to support those in need. Time zones and access to news reports can delay your information and leave you feeling even more disconnected from your roots. All of this will naturally lead to a serious bout of homesickness and fear/regret of being so far away.

Lauren (@laurenonlocation) says: “Not knowing when I’m going to be able to see my family and friends back home again has been the real challenge. I already had to cancel multiple travel plans and there’s so much uncertainty surrounding when international travel will open up once more. The uncertainty of when I’ll get to squeeze my friends and family again is what worries me now more than anything.”

Rachael (@athomewithin) says: “When I first moved, I always had this underlying fear that if I missed out on something ‘bad’ happening while being away from family, I would have so much guilt or fear that I couldn’t be there. That’s still true in a way, but this pandemic has taught me the resilience of myself and my family, even when we’re forced to be apart.”

Recognise that if there ever were a time for homesickness to flare up, it will be during a global pandemic(!!) You’re not weak. Your new life hasn’t failed. It’s normal to crave the familiarity and comfort of home during this time of uncertainty. You’re only human.
(Read more on how to battle homesickness here.)


Look within – Take the pressure off.

Lauren (@laurenonlocation) says: “Out of everything I’ve learned during this pandemic, the lesson I hope to hold onto years after this passes is to look inward when faced with adversity. When we take a moment to slow down and look inside ourselves, we are able to tap into something deeper, allowing us to better cope with our feelings, our fears, our stress, and our anxiety.”

Remember: There is no right or wrong way for you to be feeling during this time. There isn’t a list of things you ‘should’ be doing or achieving. 
It’s important to reflect and acknowledge when we are being unfair to ourselves and expecting too much.

Complete Exercises 1 & 2 of your Journal!

Rachael (@athomewithin) says: “Most of my ‘routine’ practices that I had before the lockdowns have gone out the window – like meditation or yoga. Sleeping, reading, and journaling have really helped. When emotions are high, there’s also a lot of creativity that flows through us – ideas and inspiration. Listening to those nudges of what I’d like to do and just doing it in that moment – ordering flowers, cooking a meal, ordering food, opening a window. It’s those subtle moments, seemingly insignificant, where I listened to myself that have gotten me through.”

Lauren (@laurenonlocation) says: “Some expats I’ve talked to have been coping by focusing on a strict routine, while others are dealing by mixing things up and trying new hobbies, crafts, etc. I really think it’s all about finding what works for you during this time, and then focusing on that. If something makes you feel good, work it into your day and prioritize it!”

Surrender and rest – Create a safe space.

We have no control over this situation so surrender to it and let go.
Create a ‘nook’ in your home dedicated to self-care. What speaks to you? Books? Diffusers? Art? Cozy cushions? Learning? Photos of loved ones? Music?
All too often, our attention after moving abroad is focused entirely on the outside (e.g. making new friends, exploring our new neighbourhood…) Now, you can spend your time nourishing your mental health and making yourself a home where you feel safe and grounded.

Rachael (@athomewithin) says: “I love being at home way more than I thought. Expat life previously made me feel like I always had to be out on an adventure in order to make the most of it. It’s not really true. At first I totally distracted myself with baking, and that’s okay. Eventually, I got exhausted and just needed to sleep. Allowing that helped so much.”

Lauren (@laurenonlocation) says: “I’ve found that reading, meditating, journaling, and keeping up with my yoga practice have all been extremely helpful to ease my stress and anxiety during this time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of those activities involve disconnecting from technology and focusing on some “me time.”

Audit your social media – Limit your screen time.

Lauren (@laurenonlocation) says: “The more time I have at home, the harder it’s been to separate my work life from my personal life and my relationship time. It’s so easy to work until the wee hours of night, default to Netflix or get caught up scrolling on social media. What I’ve been trying to do is get more intentional with my extra time, and fill it with things that make me feel good.”

Complete Exercises 3 & 4 of your Journal!

Use technology to your advantage.

Personally, one of the best reminders that has come from this pandemic for me is the realization that I have my friends at the end of my fingertips – and they’ve been there all along!
I think I’ve caught up with more friends in the past 3 weeks than I have done in the past 3 years(!)… This is the perfect time for expats to reach out to old connections. FOMO is less and everybody wants to connect digitally.
I feel like my soul is nourished when I reconnect with someone and it feels like no time has passed between us. It’s a welcome reminder of how many deep connections I actually do have with others; despite how ‘lonely’ this lockdown can make us feel.

Complete Exercise 5 of your Journal!


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during the pandemic? What advice can you share to others who may be struggling?

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