Tips for re-entry, from a former expat psychologist

by <strong>Michael Hawton</strong>
by Michael Hawton

Advance member, Child Psychologist (MAPS) and founder of Parentshop.

Moving back to Australia after living an expat life is hard enough. But coming back in the middle of pandemic can make it that little bit more difficult. I can remember when we first came back from Seychelles in 2001, after having lived overseas. The feeling of being a fish out of water for those first few months is still fresh in my memory.

It was also true that we felt we had landed in a place where people were ‘rushing’ about. We’d slowed down to island time, much more than we first realised. I can remember that ‘re-entry’ felt like we had had to make more adjustments returning than going to live in Seychelles. This mild form of culture-shock, included having to more-quickly get ourselves setup again, getting new jobs, supporting our kids to get back into a routine and to schools. It also involved our adjusting to the barrage of emails and phone calls so that we could get our own personal ‘systems architecture’ in place. There seemed so many things we had to do, to re-set our lives.

So, what can make returning home to Oz a little bit easier?

When I was at university one of the first things I learnt, in Psych 101 classes, was that anxiety can be the result of how we deal with stressors. Stressors, I learnt, affect anyone and everyone but depending on how you manage them you’ll be more or less anxious. Stressors don’t necessarily cause anxiety, in the sense that they affect different people differently. While one person might become anxious as a result of some stressors in their life another won’t. So, at least some components of anxiousness are to do with how to manage stressors.

I get it that some people face a lot of stressors. The thing is that the way we interpret the significance of stressors is the key to how they affect our mental health.

Not every event is a nine out of ten event and nor does it deserve a nine out of ten reaction. If we ‘catastrophise’ in our thoughts or in the language that we use, it will set-up a self-fulfilling loop. The more that we use words and phrases such as, “This is terrible” or “I just can’t cope!”, the more we actually come to believe that something is like that.

You might like to remember, what I said before: different people experience the same stressors – one gets anxious, the other one does not.

I would have thought that the trick for expat re-entry is to take your time and to accept that all the things that we want to happen won’t always go smoothly. The thing about overcoming any re-entry blues can be as much a matter of pacing oneself, as it is about getting back into the groove of things. If you want to overcome anxiety in your life (when you are re-entering Australia after being away) is to think in terms of what you can control and what you can’t control. You probably can’t control all of the unknowns of returning (things like not having a job straight-away or not having the same social routines). But, you can control things like eating three meals a day, exercising – and keeping a diary for example. You are in control of many things in your life. It’s a bit of a cliché to say it but, it will take ‘time’ to adjust to re-entry.

You can’t control all the things you may aspire to when you return but you can control the way that you think about things.

If you want to learn how you can help your child manage their anxiety and become more resilient during your transition home to Australia, Parentshop is running interactive webinars for parents. Check out our Events board for upcoming sessions.