We took a look at some of the challenges encountered by mining personnel who choose an international FIFO job in a recent article. We mentioned then that some families do choose to relocate overseas rather than go down the FIFO path. With all the difficulties, and the significant rewards that come with that decision. However, what many people may not realise is that adapting to life back home again once the overseas stint is over can be just as difficult as moving overseas in the first place.
Those who have done it quite often tell you that there is a certain amount of anticlimax involved in returning home after having lived overseas for a while. You may even get a bit depressed, and certainly a little bit sad.
When a family first starts out on a journey to live overseas, there's usually a lot of excitement happening. There are heaps of things to organise, goodbye parties to attend to, packing, passports, visas, packing up, making arrangements for the house, storing things that aren't going with you and so on. And anticipation. Invariably there is also plenty of anticipation and excitement.
Excitement, anticipation, happiness and so on are all feel-good emotions. Obviously. However, whilst we usually take them for granted, there is actually a very good biological explanation for it all. When we're busy preparing for a move overseas, the excitement and feeling of rising to a challenge contribute to the release of adrenalin. Adrenaline fuels our flight or fight response. It's a primitive mechanism that undoubtedly saved our lives more than once back in the far distant past when we were hunter-gatherers. It fires up our heart rate, increases the supply of glucose to our muscles, stimulates our central nervous system, and generally prepares us to flee, or fight. Under the influence of this high, we buzz along feeling like we can cope with anything the world tosses at us. This high feeling is what an 'adrenaline junkie' thrives on.
We're also undoubtedly a lot more active physically when we're preparing to move overseas too. All that packing and running around organising everything…. Being active stimulates the release of brain chemicals called endorphins. These are commonly referred to as 'feel good' hormones. We release them when we're stressed, in pain and fearful but we also release them when we laugh, or exercise. They make us feel good, happy, confident and so on.
In other words, when we're preparing to move overseas we're generally on a high. We're also thinking ahead to all the challenges and interesting things that await us in our new home. These put us in a positive, energetic frame of mind, and keep our mood on the upswing.
When we arrive overseas we have a whole new life to adjust to. There are new experiences, challenges and triumphs. It all keeps our minds busy, and those brain chemicals ticking over. It's a time for learning new things about oneself. Our weaknesses, our strengths, our shortcomings, our fears and even our flaws are more likely to reveal themselves when we're faced with a totally new environment.
Then it's time to return home again.
Some people can adjust easily. Others find it really difficult, especially if their lives before they moved were humdrum, boring or difficult. The sheer thought of returning to all 'that' can bring on a severe case of the blues. Or perhaps living overseas was such a momentous and life-changing experience they're not sure how they're going to cope being back on Terra firma again.
And once we arrive back home we invariably find that not a lot has probably changed. Our family and friends are likely still doing pretty much what they were doing when we left. Or their lives have moved on and grown without us and we now have to try and fit back in again. Then there is the undeniable fact that we have experienced things they haven't, unless they've also lived overseas for a while. This can create a distance between former close friends. Chances are they're also not particularly interested in what we've been doing, whereas we're bursting at the seams to tell them all about everything!
It's also a known fact that unpacking upon return from adventure, or a trip, is nowhere near as exciting as packing to go on that adventure or trip was. Packing up the car for a holiday for instance is done with anticipation and enthusiasm. Unpacking the car when you get home without that motivating sense of adventure about to happen is a thankless chore no one really wants to do. I think most of us can relate to this!
Likewise, returning from the adventure of living overseas involves mundane chores like arranging to have the utilities switched back on, re-enrolling the kids in school, unpacking, getting all the stuff back out of storage and so on. Exactly like unpacking the car…. There's no excitement, no anticipation, no waiting adventure and that can leave us feeling quite down and even depressed.
What most families say though is that despite everything, they wouldn't have missed the opportunity to live abroad for anything. With that in mind, given that so many also go through the 'oh no, I'm back home again' feeling, what are some ways to work through them?
- First of all, it's entirely normal to feel a sense of anti-climax after something as adventurous as moving overseas for a while. Acknowledging this helps normalise it, and makes it easier to cope with the experience.
- Take it one day at a time. If the future seems a bit dull and lustreless right at the moment, focus on what you're doing today instead. Tomorrow focus on what you're doing then. And so on.
- Be aware of what situations tend to set off feelings of boredom and change them if you can. If you have a routine that invariably makes you depressed, change it. It may be something as simple as taking another route to drop the kids off at school, or doing something different to how you've always done it. Try a new shopping centre; there are bound to be a few of those built whilst you were away.
- Join a social group connected to a hobby you have, rearrange your garden, renovate the house, get a new job, further your education. There are plenty of ways to create a more interesting future for yourself and generate some enthusiasm for life back home.
- Don't let feeling sad, or down, get in the way of doing what has to be done. The kids need to be enrolled in school regardless of how you, and they, are feeling. You need to arrange to have the amenities reconnected, unpack everything and so on. It will also help take your mind off your feelings.
- Keep in touch with your friends and connections overseas. Social media makes this very easy to do.
- Get in touch with old friends or make new ones who are positive and interested in how you've just spent the last few years.
- Realise that your children may also be feeling the same way and offer them similar opportunities to move on with their lives.