Healthy mind, healthy body: top tips for easing the psychological pressures of spending time overseas

An overseas posting can bring with it exciting opportunities. Sometimes, however, the experience can prove overwhelming and bewildering.

According to the World Health Organisation, expatriates and travellers often report experiencing feelings of isolation and anxiety. Separation from family and friends and the lack of familiar social support systems can often lead to increased levels of stress and, ultimately, to both physical and psychological problems.

It is said that it takes two years to get used to a new country. It certainly takes time and effort to put out the social tendrils and replace networks of friends and family back home.

Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits' team of international Occupational Health specialists offer some practical advice.

  • Preparation for culture shock. Many harbour unrealistic expectations of living and working overseas, envisaging a utopia of gin and tonic parties, luxury accommodation and private beach clubs. Be aware of the cons as well as the pros of the new environment and, if possible, seek advice on how friends or work colleagues have coped with such new challenges. 
  • Build acquaintances in advance. Where possible it is advisable to make contact with people you might be working with, before you relocate, either by phone or email, to establish some level of familiarity amongst the shock of the new. 
  • All work and no play makes Jack an ill boy. Individuals relocating overseas, either permanently or for temporary work assignments, can have a tendency to be globetrotting workaholics, prepared to work very long hours to fulfil career objectives. This may be commendable but work-life balance is an important component of long-term mental health so consider recreational activities such as local health clubs. 
  • Forewarned is psychologically forearmed. Before you head to the other side of the planet, you should be seek health advice on vaccinations and anti-malarials. Before you travel you should also investigate the risks of local diseases and ailments and how to avoid them. 
  • Verify fitness to travel before picking up your passport. A medical healthcheck will identify and address any potential medical problems before you go, giving you reassurance, peace of mind and preventing crises later on. 
  • Homeward bound. Readjusting to the home culture after a long spell overseas and picking up a new professional role can prove to be just as stressful as the initial secondment. Remember that you are returning home a different person and be patient adapting to life back in the UK.