Self-Care Is Not The Answer To Expat Stress - Part 1

By Emily Braucher
November 11, 2021
 - 
3
 min read
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Let me set the scene...

You look around and nothing is familiar. The food is too greasy, you don’t know how to get across town, people stare at you like you have two heads. You feel disoriented. Your mind races. Your chest pounds. You call a friend from home, and they say, “You seem really stressed! Why don’t you treat yourself to a massage or take a hike?” You think, Wow, I’m a million miles from being able to do that. You get off the call and just feel misunderstood. What went wrong here?

Mistaking self-care as a cure all, when what expats really need is community care.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe self-care helps alleviate stress. As part of the intercultural coaching I do, I help clients create habits to manage brain energy so they have the resources needed to make good decisions in stressful moments. But what is the underlying message from this friend that rubs us the wrong way? You are having a tough time, why don’t you go away and take care of yourself. When we are stressed, many of us already feel the impulse to retreat, but this can result in isolation. Studies show that when we are stressed, what we need most is connection. 

Even before the pandemic, scientists were looking at the role of community in maintaining health. Back in 2018, a Cigna study found nearly half of all Americans report always feeling lonely or left out. The health impacts of loneliness are coming into focus as well. Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that loneliness can have the same impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So why is it that when people are stressed, we encourage them to spend time alone? We need to expand our destressing vocabulary.

Dr. Michael Leiberman, neuroscientist at University of California/Los Angeles, researched the human need for connection and found that this need may be even more important than food and shelter. In Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs (see image 1), food and shelter made up the base layer of the human needs pyramid. 

Leiberman’s conclusion means our familiar human needs model is way off. 

Image 1

Image 2

It means safety is at the bottom of the pyramid (Image 2), and that belonging should be a part of safety. This brings us to the term “community care” which is common in social justice movements but has yet to become well-known. The term means what it sounds like— the care of others benefits everyone in the group including you. This term gained traction a few years back when Nakita Valerio’s tweet on the topic went viral. This is a massive paradigm shift that requires pursuing different avenues of connection and support. 

Read part 2 of this series and learn a few simple steps to build your community care muscles as an expat living abroad.  

Resources:

New Cigna Study Reveals Loneliness at Epidemic Levels in America. (2018) By Ellie Polack. Retrieved from https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8294451-cigna-us-loneliness-survey/

Dockray, Heather (2019) Self-care isn't enough. We need community care to thrive. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/article/community-care-versus-self-care/ 

Sweet, Jacob (2021) The Loneliness Pandemic: The psychology and social costs of isolation in everyday life Retrieved from https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2021/01/feature-the-loneliness-pandemic

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About the Author

Emily Braucher

Emily Braucher is a keynote speaker, trainer and coaching who is singularly focused on helping people create trusting relationships across differences. Check out her feature page to learn more about her and her 1:1 coaching programs.

Founder of ReFresh Communication, www.refreshcommunication.com

Co-host of the podcast, Humanize: Stories from the Heart about Social Justice, www.thehumanizepodcast.com

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