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

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Do you suffer from settlement stress? It’s sadness or tension that newcomers feel in reaction to events related to being in a new country. This is caused by things like difficulties in finding a job or understanding the language, or 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 experience. While we have stress throughout our lives, immigration has “the compound effect of stressful life events in short succession” (Zarélsie Van der Merwe). The result is a high level of tension. Stress is made worse 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 meet the challenges of settlement. If you don’t realize what is happening, you may not be able to deal with the problem right away.

When you have settlement stress, you will 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. But when these feelings become overwhelming, mental health and medical problems increase. It can lead to depression, and/or problems with sleep or substance abuse. It can also cause 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, know that everything that is happening to you is part of the settlement process. Understand that these feelings are not your fault and that there are solutions.
  2. Eat right – This sounds simple but it makes a big difference. 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 important. Familiar smells and tastes can make you feel good. Manitoba is home to many ethnic food stores where you can find your native ingredients.
  3. Exercise – Fresh air, exercise, and a change of scenery will lift your mood. Make it a habit to walk outside or jog every day. Visit 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 small fee.
  4. Practice healthy thinking – This means looking at things in a balanced way. Here are some tips to start healthy thinking:
    • Make a gratitude list. Van der Merwe, who is an immigrant herself, made a gratitude 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 many take for granted, but for most immigrants, these are big reasons for moving to Canada. Ask yourself, what are you grateful for?
    • Know what you can change and what you cannot. Focus on things you can control. This will help direct 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. Thinking too much about problems is bad for you. You can get overwhelmed. Make a priority list and deal with each item one at a time.
    • Talk to a counsellor. Talking can help ease 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 will be able to refer you to the right services.
    • Connect with other people. Talking to people can help change your perspective. But don’t talk to complainers. Negative talk will not solve anything. It will only reinforce your negative thoughts and depress you more.
    • Meditate. 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 – Create happy experiences in your new country. Go out, enroll in classes, participate in community activities, or volunteer. Learn how to skate or ski. 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 thinking too much. 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 a 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. Don’t give up!
Article updated July 14, 2023.
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.

Read 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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