This is the second part How to live in Mexico: Lessons I learned, by Ian Hayden Parker, founder of PVDN.
After my first part of How to Live In Mexico, Lessons I learned, I had planned on writing part two dealing with reader’s questions submitted to me, and there were hundreds of questions and over 10,000 readers. However, I decided to dedicate part two to maintaining your mental health as an expat in a new country. It’s not a glamorous topic or one that people want to talk about.
Being an expat anywhere in the world can be a very lonely experience once the butterflies wear off and you begin to settle into your new life. Expat suicide rates are nearly 8X higher than national suicide rates. Just last month, three Canadians in three different incidences committed suicide in Puerto Vallarta. Paradise can also be a very lonely place.
Make new friends
To help battle the expat blues, it’s critical to seek new friends as soon as possible. Even if you began your expat adventure with a spouse, partner, or friend, you need more social connections than a single person to care for your mental health.
Learning Spanish has a direct connection to making new friends in Mexico, so why not sign up for Spanish classes? In Spanish classes, you will likely meet other expats that can become study partners and friends. Probably many of the people in the class will also be new to Mexico and the expat life. And after you begin learning Spanish and making new expat friends, your Spanish skills will open the door to more local (Mexican) friends and opportunities. My personal experience has resulted in 1000% more happiness and friends when I began speaking more Spanish.
You can also volunteer and meet new people. There are beach cleanup days that you can join, or volunteer with sea turtle rescues. Both of these activities are popular with expats in Puerto Vallarta, and you can meet new people while making a difference in the community.
Do not get stuck in the expat bubble! You need to seek friendships with locals (Mexicans) and make sure a healthy portion of your social time is spent with them. First, you will learn so much about your new home by befriending locals. Local friends will help you feel like you are planting roots in your new country, making you feel more at home. Second, you will have people to celebrate the local holidays with, and in Mexico, there are a lot of holidays. Third, you can pick up some more Spanish words!
Try new things
If you had told me ten years ago that one of my favorite snacks was going to be eating grasshoppers, I would have said you were crazy. My time spent in Oaxaca changed my mind. I eat them like chips, make salsa with them, put them on tacos and quesadillas, anywhere I can use them.
You don’t need to become an insect addict, but dare yourself to try something new. Maybe you can enroll in a local cooking class or salsa dancing. It can be as easy as getting out of your routine and trying a new restaurant instead of that same Friday nightspot. Check out the art and music classes being offered at the Cuale River in Puerto Vallarta, or any culture center where you live. You can even just walk a new route, turn down a street that you have never traveled. I found one of my favorite cafes by deciding to take a new route to the Mercado one morning.
Start your own daily photo challenge. Each day, discover something new and interesting and take a photo, share it on social media, and let your friends back home see how unique your new life has become. They will be so jealous and it will give you purpose while seeing a different side of your own life. Maybe make your own scavenger photo shoot. Every night, make a list of 5 things you want to find and take a photo of the next day. A margarita, an iguana, a mural, a child playing in the sand, an old couple holding hands. I used to do the scavenger photo walks a few times a week, it helped me focus on the things around me and appreciate where I was even more.
Choose something new that will bring you closer to the new culture that surrounds you. You will start to feel like a real local, and if you feel like a real part of the community where you live, you will notice the moments of homesickness become shorter and shorter as you begin to feel like you are home.
Have a blues buddy
Designate another local expat to be your blues buddy. A mutual agreement between the two people who are committed to being the support system for the other person when they are feeling the expat blues. It’s good to have someone to talk to, but don’t talk to everyone you know. You don’t want to be that person people start to avoid because you bring everyone down.
Talking with someone who can remind you that you’re not alone will do wonders to boost your spirit.
Becoming an expat is just like ending a long relationship, even if it was your choice and you know it’s the best thing for you, there is still a loss. You are ending the longest relationship you have ever known, the relationship with your home country, a huge part of your identity, and where most of us have felt safe. Even if you don’t think you will have moments of grieving, trust me, you will. It’s OK, the expat blues will become less frequent as you settle into a new relationship in Mexico (or wherever you end up).
I used to be one who laughed at the idea of meditation. Not anymore. Mediation isn’t just for the hippy pot smoker. Taking a moment each day to clear your mind and feel your breath gives you the time you need to remind yourself why you chose to become an expat.
Stress and anxiety are typical feelings for new expats, and they are also major contributors to depression and the expat blues. “Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious,” says Dr. John W. Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Meditation creates changes in the part of the brain that deals with self stress and anxiety, known as the mPFC, or ‘me center’, the part of the brain that processes information about yourself, like worrying about your future or not being good enough.
The aim of meditation is not to block out the thoughts that are bringing on the expat blues, but to accept those thoughts as valid, but change the way in which you react to them through acceptance.
The expat blues are a real thing that almost every expat will experience from time to time, no matter how long they have been living an expat life. If you are feeling the blues, connect with friends, get out and rediscover your new country to remind yourself why you chose the expat life, and take a moment to breathe.
Ian Hayden Parker is the founder of PVDN and has been living as an expat in Mexico for the past 12 years. You can contact Ian Hayden Parker to suggest a topic for the next issue of How to Live in Mexico by submitting your feedback or question here.
How to live in Mexico is a new series of posts dealing with life as an expat in Mexico and lessons that have been learned over the last 12 years as an expat.