I often see patients who have moved and face the same dilemma: difficulties in making friends, learning the language, finding a job and deep loneliness, which is exacerbated when the weather changes.
As I am writing this article, autumn is just beginning. The temperatures are low, and the rain is adding to the discouraging cold of leaving the house.
This article is a response to a question I received on my social networks:
“As a foreigner living in Leipzig, I have struggled to adapt to the cultural differences and the language barrier. I often feel isolated and excluded from social activities, and I’m finding it difficult to make friends. Do you have any advice on how I can better integrate into the local community and overcome these feelings of loneliness?”
If you’re in this situation, my first piece of advice would be to be very careful with self-blame. Adapting to a new country is an ongoing process that doesn’t end when you unpack. It also takes time to learn about the new culture. That’s why it’s so important that we take care of ourselves at this time.
It’s very common to compare ourselves with other people who are already communicating fluently and confidently, who have found a great job in their field and so on. When we look at this other person’s life, they seem so competent, the process seems so much easier and we imagine that there’s something wrong with us because we haven’t reached that level yet. Self-blame and comparison can be destructive and extremely harmful during this period of heightened sensitivity.
Another important guideline is to remember your history up to this point.
It takes a lot of courage to move to another country, reinvent yourself, learn many new things (including a language) and adapt. This courage and perseverance are part of you. I always like to remind my patients of everything they’ve been through and how many things they’ve overcome. When we are experiencing a challenge we tend to forget our achievements and accomplishments, but they are there and they are what make us realize that we are capable of overcoming yet another adversity. Make no mistake, when I say this I don’t mean that overcoming adversity will be smooth and painless, but that through the very process of resilience, it will happen. Preferably, and when the opportunity arises, I recommend making this transition with psychological support.
In this process of reinventing and discovering yourself, you might find that things that were important to you in your previous country become less important, and things that were casual and constant, like the hug of a family member or the smell of your favorite food cooking, are very much missed.
Friendships are built up over time; you may have several acquaintances, but few or no friends.
These bonds in a new country can be cultivated through sporting activities, learning a new instrument or even your language course. Think about the activities you like to do—going to clubs, museums or concerts, for example—and how you might meet people while doing the things that you enjoy. I know this is very difficult, especially for more introverted people, but it’s a fundamental step for your adaptation.
Start gradually, first making a list of your favorite activities, go to places without getting your hopes up and stick with it.
If the feeling of loneliness is a constant in your life and you feel unmotivated to do your daily activities, I recommend that you seek professional help. After all, with the onset of fall and the arrival of winter, we may experience symptoms of seasonal depression, which is a form of depression directly associated with the change of seasons. These behavioral changes can be mild and are known in English as the winter blues. The symptoms can be mistaken for a lack of motivation, discouragement or laziness, but they are symptoms of seasonal depression, which can be mild, moderate or intense. It should be remembered that if these symptoms go untreated, they can considerably affect your daily routine and quality of life in an almost incapacitating way.
Don’t forget the reasons why you moved to another country. Perhaps it was because you found a new love, an excellent opportunity to study or work or wanted to explore the world. Whatever the reason, you’re here now! So remember not to compare yourself, but to draw inspiration from people you admire.
Editor’s note: Got a burning question about life, strife, relationships? If so, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Ask Fayer.”