Balancing Life and Career While Abroad

Working abroad can come with a new set of stressors you never imagined. Not knowing a language can make it hard to make and keep connections, and with the constant shifting environment of being an expat people are constantly coming and going. It can be hard to adjust, but it’s important to keep your career and life balanced to reduce strain and improve your quality of life while still expanding your work experience.

Modern lifestyles seem to require a lot of time spent working. With constant access to technology and email it’s hard to disconnect from that mentality even when home and “off-the-clock.” Being abroad, the pressure to maintain a strong worth ethic can be even stronger as you’re expected to perform well in an unfamiliar and new environment. There’s the tendency for a professional identity to take priority over the personal identity can be a slippery slope. While work ethic is important, so is mental health.

Perspective is an important piece of balancing work and life. While work is a very important component, it’s just one facet of a healthy lifestyle and is no more important than the other facets. Also, you’ll find your work performance is remarkably better when you’re happier in the other areas of your life as well.

Poor work-life balance can affect both mental and physical health. It can lead to high and chronic stress, and other significant health concerns. Higher levels of smoking and alcohol consumption, weight gain, depression along with other mental and physical detriments such a lack of sleep are common when the balance is off. As expats, it can be especially hard being away from the comfort of “home” and the normalcy of that support system to find a proper balance. Fostering relationships both with partners and family, as well as new friends and colleagues is essential to survival.

How can you find and create a balance that allows you to dedicate the proper time to each component of your life without exhausting yourself trying? First – you need to determine the important facets of your life. Prioritize your areas of importance. What are the values you hold dear? What makes you happy and feel your best? What energizes you? How much of the day do you want to spend at work? Once you’ve answered these questions and analyzed your current lifestyle – you can reallocate your time accordingly to help create a better balance.

The next steps in finding that balance are on-going maintenance:

Start Small

With your above questions answered, decide which areas are of highest priority and start there. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to reprioritizing.

Be Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for failure by being overzealous with change. Set yourself up for success by being realistic and making slow shifts.

Have Open Communication

If things feel like they’re getting overwhelming, be sure to have an open line of communication with your support system. Talk with someone you trust to help work through any overwhelming feelings.

Professionals Can Help

Never be afraid to see professional help if you feel that you’re just not finding a way to manage stress and balance. A certified counsellor can help define solutions for your individual needs.

Incorporate ‘No’ Sometimes

When your plate is bogged down, it’s okay to say no. Find compromises between when your schedule is busy and turning things down, and when you have a lighter week to accommodate spending that free time with others.

Delegate When Possible

In conjunction with saying no, be sure to delegate tasks to others when possible or necessary. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Leave Work at the Office

While it’s easy to stay connected to work at all times in the digital world, it’s important to have a separation of work and home. Find some ways to unwind from the work day before heading home or interacting with loved ones to help you get into a relaxed state of mind, try the gym, or a bath, or listening to a podcast or audiobook on your commute home. Limit work talk and email checking as much as possible once you’re in the door.

There are a lot of factors that can contribute to the state of your mental health, both in work and outside of work. Being an expat and living abroad brings a slew of new contributors including: new environment, higher performance expectations, the desire to prove yourself, language barriers, and more. Take a step back, plan ahead, and create balance and you can create a healthy work-life balance even as an expat. One major step you can take to limiting stress is dedicating time to learning the language of the country you’re immersing in. This will allow you easier lines of communication, the ability to keep in touch, and eliminate any feelings of isolation.