For most expats, relocating to Sweden means adjusting to a different culture. Reactions associated with the stress, uncertainty and the upheaval of relocation to another culture are very common for those from English speaking countries. These reactions can include experiences of anxiety, withdrawal, low mood, depression and other mental health difficulties.
In my therapeutic work with people who have moved to Sweden, we often talk about how unexpected these reactions were. After all, Sweden appears to be an orderly place and most people, particularly younger people and those Swedes living in the large cities, speak English. At first it was easy to imagine that life here could be easy and that it would not take long to settle in.
But the expats I talk with tell me they were unprepared for the differences in culture and climate they encountered. They describe low mood, difficulty sleeping, anxious thoughts or constant worries as well as the impact of such feelings on their relationship with partners.
Some people confess a lack of energy or enthusiasm or say they are finding it hard to enjoy life. Some people increase their use of alcohol to help them manage these feelings then find drinking causes further problems or takes them away from what they want from life. Occasionally people tell me they have an unexplained sense of panic they want help to overcome.
So what can you do if you are experiencing difficulty adjusting to life in Sweden?
5 Ways to Take Action and Get Help to Adjust to Living in Sweden
If you are struggling with feelings associated with depression or anxiety after moving to Sweden, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Share your feelings
Talk about your feelings instead of bottling them up. Trying to contain or hide emotions can be useful at times but, when they aren’t released, emotions can become explosive or leak out in inappropriate situations.
2. Connect with others
Talking to your girlfriend or boyfriend or sambo might not be enough. The emotions around cultural adjustment can also be a pressure on relationships so it is important to share your experiences with people other than your partner. The language barrier can be difficult but there are also a number expat groups, particularly in Stockholm. Remember that there are plenty of others who have been through similar hard times after moving to Sweden and if you can connect with them it can be helpful to hear other perspectives on how to make it through.
3. Exercise regularly
Particularly as it gets colder, the freezing temperatures and darkness can have us slowing down, staying inside and not being as active. But thoughts and emotions and even sleeping patterns can be positively affected by physical activity. Whether it is bodypump or working out at the gym, football, a regular yoga class, swimming or just a long, brisk walk everyday, keeping up exercise can help.
4. Try to find balance
If you are indoors a lot, make sure you get outside regularly. If you are only spending time with your partner or on your own, make an effort to engage with others. If you are working or studying, give yourself some downtime doing things that are fun or relaxing. If you aren’t working or studying, look into some volunteer work to give yourself a regular meaningful activity.
Trying to adjust to a new culture sometimes has us putting most of our energy into the familiar aspects of our lives but this can result in imbalance. Generally, the Swedes understand balance through the concept of ‘lagom’ and will be more understanding if you tell them you are trying to find balance in your life.
5. Do something today and stop delaying
The most important thing, in my professional experience, is to start to take action right now and not just hope the feelings will go away. They might go away, in time, but they are more likely to disappear when you are expressing how you feel, involved in activities with others and looking after your body and mind.
If you are stuck, meeting with a counsellor, coach or therapist is one way to get on track with the changes you are making. Make a start today on doing something to improve your life in Sweden. Call me now on 08- 559 22 636 or send an email through the contact page. Usually we can meet within a week.