Managing the Emotional Challenges of Relocation

Are you freaking out or experiencing culture shock?

If you are, you are normal.

Authors who have written about relocating often refer to the “freaking out” or “culture shock” stage as a part of the process that will be experienced while adjusting to a new environment. Optimistic authors have identified 4 stages that you’ll go through during a relocation, while those who are more pessimistic have identified 10.

So how many stages are there really before you will finally begin to feel like you’re going to survive? Four stages might seem manageable, but 10? And must you “freak out” and go into shock? It can all sound daunting when you hear or read about it. Experiencing it first-hand can feel emotionally overwhelming to anyone who is going through a relocation.

While adjusting to a new location, the number of stages you’ll go through and how you label them is less important than recognising that with any move, no matter what the distance travelled from your base of comfort, there will most likely be a fluctuation in your emotional state that feels more marked than ordinary. There may be times when you experience heightened discomfort that makes you want to get on the next plane “home”, and on the very same day or even in the very same hour, you might find yourself having a sense of pride or even a sense of elation. As a seasoned expat who has relocated multiple times, I have felt every emotion felt to mankind during my periods of transition.

Having a technique at hand that can be practiced during challenging times will help you effectively deal with difficult emotions that are sure to arise. Expansion, outlined below, is one such technique. This 4-step process from Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based strategy for regulating one’s emotions:

Step 1: Use your observing self to connect with the sensations in your body

Step 2: Use deep breathing to explore the sensation.

Step 3: Make additional room in your body for the sensation.

Step 4: Tolerate the sensation, and give it space to exist.

Additionally, there are some actions that you can take to offer you a sense of control during a time when everything feels out of control.

Join expat groups and find ways to socialise. Having a community of people that are in your same position will help you to feel less alone.

Explore your new environment. Learn about your host country as much as you can. Appreciate and embrace the differences in culture from your home base. View it as a time to add to your life’s experiences and personal growth.

If there is a language barrier, sign up for a language course. Knowing even a little of the language of your host country can make you feel more confident. Besides, it’s another way to meet new people.

Take care of your mental health. Seek professional help if your anxiety is getting the better of you. Our expert team of psychologists in Singapore are there to help.

Remember, whatever you’re experiencing emotionally during this time of adjustment, the key is not to judge the emotion or yourself for feeling it. More than likely, you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing. It’s a sign that you’re alive and that you belong to humanity no matter where you’re living.

At our core, we are a team of devoted psychologists based in Singapore, united by a common mission to empower individuals to lead more fulfilling lives. Through our collective expertise and commitment, we strive to make a positive impact by offering  psychological support and guidance.

Whether you need assistance in managing stress, improving relationships, or enhancing overall well-being, our team is here to help you navigate life’s challenges and foster a path towards a better, more balanced existence.

By Karen Hurworth, Counsellor working with children, adolescents and adults reviewed in December 2023.