Loneliness, culture shock and disappointment. 5 ways to get over settlement stress

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Do you suffer from settlement stress? It’s the strain and tension that newcomers feel in reaction to events related to integration in a new country. It is often caused by difficulties in finding a job, learning the language or maybe even dealing with the weather.

Why do you need to know about settlement stress?

Immigrating is one of the most stressful things a person can endure. While we experience stress throughout our lives, according to career strategist Zarélsie Van der Merwe, immigration has “the compound effect of stressful life events in short succession.” The result is a high level tension compounded by factors like loss of networks (family and friends), dealing with new and different surroundings, or unfamiliarity with the language.

This can limit your ability to rise above the challenges of integrating. If you don’t realize what is happening to you, you may not be able to address the problem properly.

When you have settlement stress, you may feel:

  • sad and anxious
  • that you lack control. You feel uncertain
  • frustrated and lost
  • angry or irritated by small things
  • discouraged or hopeless
  • loss of confidence

These are normal reactions to stress. It is when these feelings become overwhelming and prolonged that the risks for mental health and medical problems increase. It can lead to anxiety and depression, sleep problems or substance use problems. Medical issues that may arise include headaches, gastrointestinal problems, muscle tension, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and a weakened immune system.

What you can do right now to deal with settlement stress:

  1. Accept change – First, acknowledge that everything that is happening to you is part of the settlement process. Understand that these feelings are not your fault and that there is a solution.
  2. Eat right – This sounds simple but it’s important to watch what you eat and drink. Choosing healthy food and eating regular meals can keep your mood and energy levels steady. Consider getting free nutrition advice by consulting a dietician. Cooking your native dishes is also a good choice. Manitoba is home to many ethnic food stores where you will find your native ingredients.
  3. Exercise – Fresh air, exercise and a change of scenery does wonders for your mood. Make it a habit to walk outside (or jog) every day. Take advantage of Manitoba’s beautiful parks and recreation centres. Discover your neighbourhood. Sign up for activities in your community centre. Some classes, like swimming, skating, aerobics, or yoga, are free or require a minimal fee (please check online. Centres have limited in-person activities at this time).
  4. Practice healthy thinking – This means looking at things in a balanced way. Here are some practical ways to start healthy thinking:
    • Make a gratitude list. Van der Merwe, who is an immigrant herself, made a list that included clean streets, great medical care, safe environments and proper schools as a way of remembering what she has gained. These may be simple things that locals take for granted, but for most immigrants, these are major reasons for leaving our home countries. Now that you are in Canada, ask yourself, what are you grateful for?
    • Know what you can change and what you cannot. Focus on things that you can control. This will help channel your energy in the right direction.
    • Allow yourself to make mistakes. Be gentle with yourself. It is not easy to start from zero. When you make a mistake, learn from it and move on.
    • Face your problems one at a time. Ruminating about problems and the long list of things you need to do is bad for you. You will be bogged down and overwhelmed. Make a priority list and deal with each item one at a time.
    • Talk to a counsellor – Talking can help ease your stress. Ask for a referral from an immigrant serving organization. What’s great about these centres is that most of them have staff who are immigrants as well. They can relate to what you are going through and point you to the right resources.
    • Connect with other people. Talking to diverse groups of people can help change your perspective and expand your mind. However, avoid talking to complainers. Indulging in negative talk will not solve anything. It will only reinforce your negative thoughts and depress you further.
    • Meditate – This is the process of focusing your mind and redirecting your thoughts. Many people swear by this method for reducing stress. Enroll in a class for meditation or check out these YouTube videos to get started.
  5. Get busy – Start making new experiences in your new country. Go out, enroll in classes, participate in community activities or volunteer. Make time for things that you love to do. Write poetry, paint, knit, read or dance. Fun activities will help get your mind off from too much thinking. Remember, you moved here to have a better life. This is a just a phase! Soon you will notice that things are changing for the better.

If you are at that point where you:

  1. feel depressed.
  2. can’t sleep.
  3. have problems focusing, remembering or making a decision.
  4. are getting dependent on drugs/alcohol.
  5. need to take medication to get through the day.
  6. have suicidal thoughts.

Seek the help of a professional right away. Call the Crisis hotline. Remember that you should not have to suffer in silence. You are not alone. Many people will help you and care for you. Hang in there; it will get better!
Article updated January 21, 2021.
Sources: Settlement stress or cultural shock: Tips to keep healthy, ISANS; After immigration. . . when depression comes knocking, Zarélsie Van der Merwe, LinkedIn; Stress, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health; and Tips for improving mental health, here to help, CMHA. Retrieved January 3, 2019.

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Community Resources

Read Coping with change for more tips on dealing with settlement stress.

Alone in Canada: 21 ways to make it better by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. It is available in various languages.

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