Coping with Immigration Stress
by Katie Richard
With Dr Katie Richard
Stings song Englishman in New York repeated the phrase Im an alien,a song that revealed how much a foreigner can feel alienated in a country away from home. Immigration is a major stressor that can trigger depressive or anxious symptoms (including insomnia, increase in consumption of food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc.
One of the most helpful coping skills includes building a supportive social network: clinical studies have shown that social support immunizes people against stress. Stay in touch with friends and family via e-mail and webcam but also establish new social networks by joining a gym or other sports club, attending a college course, church, meeting with other immigrants (eg www.africaclub.org.au and www.saconnections.org). For example, the Africa Club in Brisbane meet on the last Friday of every month for a casual social evening meeting. SA Connections meet on the first Thursday of every month for a business breakfast in Surfers. Even visiting the South African shop (in Melbourne or Perth) to strike up a conversation may give you a sense that youre not alone in your struggles against minor things such as getting lost on the roads, not figuring out the money, waiting for the container or animals to arrive, to major ones such as feeling financially overwhelmed, not finding a job or a home.
Another coping skill is to acknowledge that immigration is tough: you are torn from friends, family, job, a home, familiarity and a routine. You have to go beyond your comfort zone and ask others for a favour or directions, go to a gym that is not as grand as mine back home and feel like an idiot for not being able to pronounce Aboriginal suburb names. You have to live somewhere that is not up to your standards back home or take a job that is not ideal. This is tough.
Once the struggle is acknowledged though, remind yourself that the first few weeks or even months will be the most difficult and this too shall pass. Nobody immigrates because it is easy. Giving up and thinking about returning to South Africa can be tempting in the height of feeling overwhelmed. In the short run, that may be easiest route. In the long run, you may be either back to square one or worse off. Returning may really work only if youve become aware of your values (e.g., family not security is most important to you).
By acknowledging that it hurts and is uncomfortable, you can then move forward by setting clear goals. Do five things daily to achieve them. Stick with the motto: if at first you dont succeed, try, try again. Whenever you get a no, see it as an opportunity to seek better. Sometimes you will have to settle for second best and go beyond your comfort zones (i.e. do things you have to not because you want to.) By continually striving to achieve your goal, settling for second best temporarily means that you will not be stuck there. If you find that youre still not coping, go to a psychologist.