The blues hit me twice. The first time I had no emotional first-aid kit. The second time I did. And that was such a relief. I created it myself and in this article, I will teach you how to make yours.
The first time the storm of negative feelings hit me when I had just unpacked the last box after we had moved to Raleigh, NC, from Germany. I had no idea what to do with myself and now I was facing a few months at home. The second time came with the repatriation when we moved back to Germany. Twice, the negative feelings had to do with an identity crisis.
The first time, when we had just arrived in the U.S., I switched from being a mom working full time working to being a stay-at-home mom and I had no idea if I would be able to work in Raleigh or not. The negative feelings took me by surprise but they were bad and I felt so lonely and homesick that I cried a lot. The second time this happened I came back to a country where I didn’t feel at home anymore. I had just trained as a coach and had started my own publishing company together with a friend in Raleigh when we left for Germany. I had no idea who I was and at the same time, I was dealing with all the emotional stuff that comes when you move a family across an ocean.
How I solved my emotional emergencies
The first crisis was solved when I started working. I was so relieved. The second crisis I did solve myself and the emotional first-aid-kit helped me tremendously. As I had just trained as a coach I was able to coach myself through that time and I developed the emotional first-aid-kit, that I have used ever since. That saved me from a lot of tears and struggles.
The spiral of negative feelings will hit almost every expat partner or expat at some point. Some are hit by it early on – maybe even before they have packed the first box. Others will experience it shortly after they arrived in the new country and when the honeymoon phase is over. Others will live through it shortly before they go back because they don’t want to go. And others save those negative feelings for the time of repatriation. And others would just get it in between because life happens. Nobody is safe from negative feelings.
How to deal with negative emotions
Everybody has a different strategy to deal with them. Some do a better job and some are not. But almost nobody is really fully prepared to hit that emotional hole. Most people will only look for solutions in that same moment the sadness, frustration, loneliness, fear, envy, and anxiety are coming down on them. Most of the obvious “solutions” will result in things that are addictive. And this doesn’t need to be alcohol or drugs but it can also be food like chocolate or shopping or extreme sports. Whatever helps to numb the feelings.
But pushing away those feelings doesn’t help. Maybe they are gone for the moment but the feelings are still there and they will bubble up in another spot and most of the time this happens when you least expect it. Then you will find yourself shouting at the kids or at visiting family members while touring your new hometown or you find yourself crying in the bathroom of a mall. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Why you need a first-aid kit for your emotions
Because you can prepare for such moments. The knowledge that those negative feelings will come is already the most important thing that will help you. But putting together an emotional first-aid-kit will be even better for your emotional health. I’m sure you know first-aid-kits. Everything you need in case of an emergency to tend to a wound is in that little kit. There are larger first aid bags and smaller ones, which you can take with you in your purse or car.
What if you had something like this for your emotions? You can take it with you or use it at home. It does make sense, doesn’t it? The most important thing with an emotional first-aid kit is that you put it together and prepare it when you don’t need it. Like this, you just have to reach for it when the emotional emergency arises.
How you can prepare
This sounds logical but still, most people just think about what they can do at the same moment they don’t feel good anymore. And of course, this doesn’t work because at that moment you can’t think clearly anymore. My son and I have that understanding that crying blocks your thinking. And that’s the same was negative feelings. It will keep you from thinking clearly and finding the best solutions for how to take care of yourself at that moment. Therefore it is way too late to think about first-aid measures at the moment you feel those negative feelings. You have to prepare in order to be able to take action in tough times.
Like normal kits, the emotional first-aid kits are also only for an emergency. At that moment you need to take care of the emotional survival and to be sure that there will be no long-term damages. The tools in your own emotional first-aid kit are like band-aids and not like medicine. Like a band-aid that just keeps the wound from bleeding the same is true for the tools you emotional first-aid kit. They help at that moment, but they don’t heal. In the long run, you will have to face your negative feelings and work through them. There are different ways to do that and I can’t discuss them here all. But there are many exercises and also self-coaching exercises which will help you turn your life and emotions around in the long run. A coach or therapist can also help with that. This article is all about the emergency and how to prepare for it.
What you need to do to stay emotionally healthy in the long run
One more thing: when the negative feelings linger for too long and you’re only sad and very anxious you should think about talking to somebody who has professional experience in that area. Going to a doctor or psychiatrist is nothing bad or shameful. Self-coaching can go only so far and sometimes you need professional help. This is true especially when you’re about to slide into a depression. Not every time you are sad this is a depression but if you’re really honest with yourself you will know the difference and then you should seek out professional help. Especially when you’re living abroad and you don’t have your normal social infrastructure around you. Some therapists also do sessions via video conferencing, so you can get help from abroad, too. Don’t hesitate to get help. this is very important to me.
But in this case it’s not about depression, but just about the emotional downs that every human has to experience in their life from time to time. Living abroad often leads much faster to such emotional lows because there’s so much change around you. Let’s be honest: You have to deal with a lot! Therefore expat partners need an emotional first-aid kit even more.
So, what kind of feelings are there that you can experience? Of course, there are many. Some of them are:
- you think your life is awful
- you are sad
- you feel fear
- you are frustrated
- you are crying and you don’t know why
- you feel alone
- you don’t feel like you have any friends
- you are homesick
- you have no idea what to do with your life or even within the next months
There also some symptoms in your body and I’m sure you know some of them already. When you notice them, you can also check which feelings are causing them:
- pounding hard
- tight chest
- lump in the throat
- a headache
- sweaty palms
- loss of appetite
- short breath
- tense muscles
Why your old strategies don’t work
Often the first reaction to this feelings and symptoms is, to withdraw and go to bed or to binge watch TV shows all day. This can be okay and of course, and if you feel like it, you should do it. But this is not a good strategy midterm or longterm. You should rather take a look at the tools in your emotional first-aid kit because you prepared it in times when you felt good. It is customized for you. By yourself.
Your happy self is now taking care of your sad self. It is a form of self-care that we are talking about.
This article is part of a series. Read more about the specific exercises for your kit and how you can prepare it. Just click on the links below:
- blog: First-aid exercises for your mind
- blog. How to create your emotional first-aid kit
- blog: First-aid exercises for your heart
- blog: First-aid exercises for your body
- Youtube video: How my emotional first-aid kit looks like
- Expat Partner Podcast: Why you need an emotional first-aid kit when you live abroad