An expat in times of COVID – emotions x10?

This week is confinement focused, particularly because many European countries are going back into lockdown. The year 2020 has been a rollercoaster, with emotions running high and no idea of what the next few months will bring.

It’s a time that is wrought with emotions for many of us, irrespective of who and where we are. And yet, if you are a foreigner living in another country, it could feel even more isolating . Why? Here’s my take on why you might be feeling a bit more anxious than someone who is a local.

Losing a support bubble. When we are overseas, we are no longer close to our families and friends from back home. We aren’t there to share with them the emotional highs and lows, and the idea that we can turn to them for sympathy and support when we need it. Sure, we still get that through FaceTime (which you should do as much as possible for mental health!), however, each country goes through different restrictions and issues so while the sympathy is there, they might not know exactly what you are going through (and vice versa).

Also, we tend to find our own tribe to share amazing moments but that will also us get through the tough times. What happens when they decide to escape and refuge back home? That’s what happened to people I know in Shanghai. During the height of the pandemic in China, they left to go back to their respective countries. Some stayed behind and the divide between those “who left” versus those “who stayed” was palpable. On top of the anxiety of the virus, there were feelings of abandonment and guilt on both sides.

Feeling disorientated. If we are living in a country where we haven’t mastered the language yet (and let’s face it, official messages are more complicated to understand than talking to a friend at a bar), we might be missing some important information and nuances regarding new rules, restrictions and advice from the government. Then on top of that, in Facebook you see the arguing that goes back and forth regarding what the actual rules are (and to be fair, sometimes the rules aren’t clear for ANYONE, including locals). It can leave many feeling disorientated and lost. In this case, it’s best to stay off social media and stick to the information in local media, using the help of a translation app or an expat-oriented news source.

Culture. What if you come from a country which respects rules versus one who merely uses rules as “guides”? How do you feel when you see blatant flouting of rules? Angry? Upset? Resentment? I know I did and wished how people would think more of the “collective” versus the “individual”.

Guilt. I felt this one…and felt it hard. I felt guilty being far from my parents and how, as they are elderly, they had to go to the supermarket to do their grocery shopping at the height of the pandemic. I saw how they struggled to get a delivery slot for food (over a week) and it broke my heart. I wished I could have been there for them because I would have shopped and dropped the groceries off at their front door. I wish I could have been there for them at a time when they needed me most.

And this feeling goes on levels much deeper than what I experienced. One Canadian friend in Paris had her wedding alone, with no friends and family from her home able to come. Another friend living in China, had to hear the bad news of his uncle in Europe contracting Covid and then later passing away. He was unable to attend the funeral because if he left China, he would not have been able to return. Many families were separated as (often) a wife and kids left China (with the husband staying due to work) and then unable to be reunited more than six months later due to border closures.

Feeling helpless and frustration as you see your home country following in the footsteps of the country you are living in. Maybe this didn’t happen to me, but it definitely happened to friends and family who are living in China. They were watching the pandemic unfold across the world and were literally shouting at the news from back home to “stop it now before it’s too late!”. They tried to advise their friends and family back home to wear masks, confine themselves early and more, yet it sometimes landed on deaf ears. I cannot imagine how they must have been feeling having to be the first to undergo lockdown (and understand the emotional ups and downs that comes with it), only to see how it could have been prevented early back home.

How many of the above have you experienced? Did you realise these were the emotions you may have been having? Let me know and how you dealt with these feelings.

What can you do? Because it’s important, I’m re-including the tips from my previous article on ways to cope with a second lockdown:

What are you mentally preparing yourself for? Mental health was a big one last confinement, and so I want to provide some links and things I’ve found helpful in coping with my mental health.

Breathing. I know it sounds simple, and taking the time a few minutes a day to sit and focus on your breathe will help because it tells your brain to relax. Breathe in through your nose, then slowly breathe out. Any thoughts that come, allow them and acknowledge them. Then release them and continue breathing.

Exercise. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day to go out for a walk, it will get those endorphins going. The fresh air and the sounds of nature will help ground you.

Cut yourself some slack. It isn’t easy, we are going through tough times. Allow yourself to feel the way you do and don’t be hard on yourself. If some days are better than others, so be it. Don’t feel guilty. One day we may be super productive and baking up a storm, the next day we feel emotionally drained and just want to watch Netflix eating those cupcakes we baked. BOTH ARE OK.

Connect with loved ones. If you are feeling down, connect with those you love. See their faces, have a chat, find an online game to play together. Sometimes just knowing how others are doing (and that they are feeling and going through the same as yourself) it can help.

Talk to a professional. Sometimes we need a new perspective and coping skills. Here’s where a professional can help so don’t hesitate to contact your local doctor who can refer you to someone. There are now also hotlines you can call and have someone be there for you.

Limit your time on news and social media. It can be emotionally draining seeing all the news and posts regarding Covid (or the 2020 US Presidential election). Limit your time scrolling or not go on at all during days where you feel most vulnerable. It is OK to take a mental health break.

Here are some resources and links to get you started:
Apps for breathing: Balance; Calm; Headspace
Hotlines: SOS Help in Paris; NHS hotlines in the UK; Lifeline in Shanghai
Exercise: BikiniBodyMommy (don’t let the name fool you, she has some great workouts for those just starting and especially for post-partum); Couch to 5K and if you’re in France, Neoness Live. Also, reach out to any local studios to see if they offer any online.

*Please note, I am not affiliated with any of the above and it is not a paid sponsorship, it is purely as a resource

Stay safe everyone.

*Cover photo by Ichad Windhiagiri on

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