They say that moving is one of the most stressful life events, and I agreed with that statement long before I moved to Switzerland. As it turns out, moving abroad is in a stress category all its own. According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which assigns values to stressful life events according to their power to adversely affect one’s health, I am on the brink of keeling over and succumbing to a stress-induced coma (ironically, this would probably make me even more stressed, due to incurring the costs of Swiss medical care).
Drastically changing up your daily routine, employment, financial situation, and social interactions is stressful no matter how you cut it, but trying to do it all in another culture is like trying to thread a needle while wearing a baseball glove: it’s all familiar stuff, it just takes longer and is more frustrating. Acclimating to life in another country is even more difficult if you happen to have the sort of personality that is prone to anxiety, over-thinking, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsiveness, introversion, and researching relocation-induced stress on the internet.
According to the author of this 2008 article in The Guardian, “health and happiness are largely predetermined by your personality type, which means that if you are introverted or prone to anxiety you may need to take extra precautions before starting a new life overseas.” If only I had read this article six months ago! As it is, I am experiencing all the common symptoms of stress during my adjustment to life in Switzerland: insomnia, upset stomach, and persistent researching of stress-induced illness on the internet.
So, I’ve created a list of reminders to help me keep things in perspective when the going gets tough, and when all I feel like doing is buying some peanut butter at Wegman’s at 11:30pm on a Sunday (which is more often than you might think):
1) You cannot control everything, so don’t try. Despite what the anxious mind would have you believe, this is not a defeatist attitude – it’s practical and efficient. When settling into another country, a lot of the necessary bureaucratic procedures take months and are very costly. In these cases, timeframe and expense are entirely out of your hands, so it is pointless to worry about it.
2) Patience is a virtue. When you are in transition and everything seems up in the air, all you want is to fast-forward a few months until everything is settled into a routine and you know what the heck you are doing. But in reality, it is best to let this process play out naturally – even chaotically.
I recently discovered the importance of this point during our apartment search…each time I toured an available apartment, I was instantly ready to submit an application for it, regardless of whether it actually met our criteria for size, rent, location, etc. I just wanted to check ‘find a place to live’ off my list as soon as possible. But last week, we finally secured an apartment that meets all of our criteria – and wildest dreams – thanks to the continued insistence of my husband that we wait for the right place to come along. More details on the new place to come!
3) Sometimes, it’s just gonna suck. You can’t pretend you’re not going to get into scrapes…embarrassing situations, bureaucratic nonsense, miscommunications and unscrupulous businesspeople are inevitable at one time or another, no matter what country you are in. But when things get tough, just put your head down and get through it because…
4) It’s all worth it. Stress or no stress, I wholeheartedly believe that moving to Switzerland was the best decision for me. In only six months, I have made new friends and learned a ridiculous number of new things, and my experiences have challenged me to be a stronger, more flexible person. As Calvin’s dad would say, I am building character! Apart from that, there are things I genuinely love about this country – the food, the gorgeous cities, the mountains, the cultural emphasis on quality-of-life – that make the growing pains totally worthwhile.
In closing, I wanted to share this image of a lovely rainbow (arc-en-ciel) which I took driving home from work yesterday. Though I am not superstitious, I felt like it was a harbinger of good things to come for my life in Switzerland.