Living and working abroad

Learning how to cope with risks abroad

The recent corona virus threats once again show expats that they have to learn how to deal with potential dangers, their personal perception of risks abroad and a deep sense of insecurity.

risks abroad
Photo by Ian Wagg on Unsplash

Expat life presents great personal challenges. It brings change, many new experiences and impressions as well as unknown dangers and risks abroad. No wonder, that our thought loop carousel is going at a rapid pace and often the nagging feeling of insecurity never goes away.

At the beginning is the question, what the future holds for us abroad? The more factors are unknown, the stronger our feeling of uncertainty grows. The less we can plan and decide, the more we feel at the mercy of fate. And now decisions and planning are all affected by the great unknown, as the situation, the protocols are changing on a daily basis. Unstable times are ahead, which means that staying grounded is more important than ever for expats all over the world. Because our personal need for security can be and is affected by external influences and events.

Every day the media bring various incalculable threats, dangers and risks abroad to our consciousness. Is our personal security only an illusion anyway? If the reports of horrors accumulate and they come over us at a time when we are already tense, our perception of risks abroad increases dramatically. Phases of uncertainty can then lead to massive fears, mood swings, frustration and an increased susceptibility to illness.

How can expats who, due to their particular circumstances, experience erratic times again and again break through negative thinking patterns and come to terms with uncertainty, insecurity and risks abroad?

Acceptance of uncertainty

Experienced expats report that living abroad has taught them above all to deal consciously with uncertainty and to regard it as the price of an otherwise exciting and enriching life. For example, not knowing where you will live in a year’s time is difficult for most people to imagine. For many expats this is part of the equation. But even those who live permanently in one place can be torn out of a well-planned everyday life by unforeseen events, be it an accident, illness or family circumstances. An uncertain future is therefore actually common to all people.

Long-term expats, however, have already learned to accept the fact that they can never fully control what will happen next. For them, a certain degree of uncertainty is simply part of expat life, and against this background they are usually better able to cope with disasters, attacks and adverse living conditions in the host country.

It all depends on your attitude

But how do newcomers abroad achieve this more laid-back attitude of the old hands? If something unforeseen happens in our lives, we often panic at first. A direct consequence are negative projections: We imagine what might happen and react as if our imaginations were already inevitable facts. It is important to learn how to distinguish: only what is happening is real. Everything else is another ride on the thought loop carousel.

Psychologists from Harvard University have published a study with the meaningful title “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind”: people have the unique ability to focus on things that don’t happen at all. This gives us the opportunity to learn from the past and plan for the future. But at the same time it also makes us imagine things in detail that might happen. These thoughts and assumptions often deprive us of the chance to be happy and enjoy life.

Anyone who is concerned about the future or higher risks abroad should therefore try to live more consciously in the present. Acknowledge what is happening, what is currently surrounding you, make sure you do your best, and as hard as it may sound: let go of the wandering thoughts regarding “what will happen later?”

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Think in a controlled way

Of course, we also have to face up to things, for example, deciding for or against moving to a country that involves certain risks. However, you should do this by thinking about your options in a controlled manner and at a time that you determine yourself. Go through the alternatives and then decide in good faith. In this way you can keep things manageable, assess risks abroad with a cool head and do not overtax yourself with ever-widening circles of thought. Trust that you can make the right decision and cope with new challenges. Especially in a turbulent environment far from the beaten track of everyday life, we find much more inner strength than we thought.

We feel insecurity when we are confronted with dangers and risks abroad that we do not know. Depending on the country of assignment, these can be, for example, pronounced forms of violence and crime, political unrest, but also poisonous snakes, spiders and insects, diseases, natural disasters and much more. It is important to be adequately informed about rules of conduct and safety measures and to comply with them exactly. The more you know about risks abroad, the safer you feel to deal with these threats. So don’t be frightened by statistics and reports from others, but learn to live safely in your environment. Try to avoid uncontrolled thoughts about what might happen to you.

To cut oneself off, however, is always the wrong way. Any avoidance that results from uncertainty leads to an increase in fear. It is better to admit the personal insecurity to yourself, but then to find ways to cope with it.

Personal stability is a protective shield

Drastic cuts in our lives challenge us to become active instead of freezing. When we look back at the decisive turning points in our past, we realize that they have often led to great improvements in the end. Those who have the courage to face life consciously gain one thing above all: control. The subjectively perceived security increases. Risks abroad and the resulting personal fears no longer throw us off balance so easily. After a phase of uncertainty, we quickly take the reins back into our hands. Only when we are active can we overcome the paralyzing feeling of being at the mercy of others and helpless. We feel strong again.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

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At a glance

  • The more factors are unknown, the stronger our feeling of uncertainty grows.

  • If something unforeseen happens, we often make negative projections.

  • Think about your options in a controlled manner and at a time that you determine yourself. Then decide in good faith.

  • Do not overtax yourself with ever-widening circles of thought. Trust that you can make the right decision and cope with new challenges.

  • Especially in a turbulent environment far from the beaten track of everyday life, we find much more inner strength than we thought.

  • Those who have the courage to face life consciously gain one thing above all: control. The subjectively perceived security increases. Risks and fears no longer throw us off balance so easily.