Living in a foreign country can be a wonderful and enriching experience, but it can also bring its own unique challenges, especially when it comes to managing your mental health. As a therapist myself and my team at Therapy Partners have supported many expats, whether it be British expats living in Spain, Dubai, Australia, or the USA. and we have put together our top ten tips to help manage your mental health while living abroad.
Expats in Spain: An Overview
Spain is a popular destination for expats, with a large and diverse community of foreign residents. According to data from Spain's National Institute of Statistics, as of January 1, 2022, there were 5,836,204 foreign residents in Spain, accounting for 12.43% of the total population. Of these, 42.5% were from the European Union, while 57.5% were from outside the EU.
Mental Health Challenges Faced by Expats in Spain
Living in a new country can be challenging, with the stress of adapting to a new environment, learning a new language, and building new social connections. Expats in Spain face a number of specific challenges that can impact their mental health, including:
All of these factors can take a toll on mental health. Studies have shown that expats are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions than the general population (1). One study found that expats in Spain were more likely to report feelings of loneliness and social isolation than those in other European countries (2). Other research has highlighted the impact of language barriers on mental health, with expats who struggle with the local language being at higher risk of depression and anxiety.
Ten top tips to help manage your mental health whist living in Spain.
1) Stay connected with loved ones back home.
One of the biggest challenges of living abroad is feeling disconnected from family and friends back home. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can affect your mental health. Make sure you stay in touch with loved ones back home, whether it's through regular video calls, emails, WhatsApp or even the odd letter or postcard.
2) Build a support network in your new community.
It's also important to build a support network in your new community. This can include making new friends, joining local clubs or groups, or even volunteering. Having a sense of community and belonging can be hugely beneficial for your mental health.
3) Learn the language.
Learning the language of your new country can not only help you communicate more effectively with those around you, but it can also help you feel more connected to your new home. It can also be a great way to challenge yourself and keep your mind active.
4) Stay active.
Regular exercise has been shown to be incredibly beneficial for mental health, and it's even more important when you're living abroad. Whether it's going for a walk, joining a gym, or taking up a new sport, make sure you find ways to stay active and keep your body and mind healthy.
5) Practice self-care
Self-care is essential for maintaining good mental health, and this is especially true when you're living in a new and unfamiliar environment. Make sure you prioritise your self-care routine, whether it's through Exercise a walk on the beech meditation, yoga, taking a long bath, or anything else that makes you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
6) Seek out professional support.
If you're struggling with your mental health, it's important to seek out professional support. From our research we have found that finding an English-speaking therapist and mental health professional in Spain can be tricky and that’s why Therapy Partners is setting up its support programme to provide support and guidance when you need it.
7) Be aware of cultural differences.
Cultural differences can be a significant source of stress when living abroad. Make sure you take the time to learn about the cultural norms and expectations in your new country and be aware of how your own cultural background may impact your interactions with others.
8) Embrace new experiences.
Living abroad can provide a wealth of new experiences and opportunities. Embrace these experiences and try new things, whether it's trying new foods, exploring new places, or learning a new skill. This can help you feel more engaged and connected to your new home.
9) Set realistic expectations.
Living in a foreign country can be challenging, and it's important to set realistic expectations for yourself. Don't expect everything to be perfect, and don't be too hard on yourself if things don't go according to plan. Be kind to yourself and take things one day at a time.
10) Remember that it's okay to feel homesick.
Feeling homesick is a natural and common experience for expats. Don't feel guilty for missing your home country or your loved ones back home. It's okay to feel homesick, and it doesn't mean that you're not enjoying your new life abroad.
Living abroad can be a wonderful and enriching experience, but it can also come with its own unique challenges when it comes to managing your mental health. By following these ten tips, you can help ensure that your mental health stays in good shape and that you make the most of your time living abroad.
Expats in Spain may face a range of mental health challenges related to their status as immigrants. According to a survey conducted by the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services, and Equality, mental health problems are prevalent among the expat community in Spain, with higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to the general population. It is important for expats to seek out support and resources to help them cope with these challenges and maintain their mental well-being.
Beusenberg, M., Ormel, J., & Kempen, G. (1999). Mental health problems of migrants and refugees in Europe. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 53(7), 1-7.
King, R., & Christou, A. (2011). Cultural geographies of counter-diaspora: A study of the Greek Cypriot diaspora in England and Wales.