Expats Twice As Likely To Suffer Stress-Related Illness

Published on 29/08/2011 in Expat Life

According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale used to gauge the impact of major life events, expats are at a much higher risk of stress-related illness, especially within the first year of their move.

Below are 10 of the 43 stressful life events on the original list which can apply to expats. Remember that this list assumes the changes are taking place in your regular environment, i.e. country and this is only a partial list, so the effects will be increased for expats dealing with these issues in a new country, away from friends and family support.

73 - Divorce
Thought to be approximately 40% higher among expats.

65 - Marital separation
The stress of moving abroad puts a strain on relationships as couples struggle to come to terms with changes in the relationships, different views on whether they should stay or return home, etc.

45 - Marital reconciliation
A surprising entry on the list but yes, reconciliation is in the top 10 stressful life events listed. After the initial readjustment and trial separation, many expat couples will give their relationship another go.

45 - Retirement
Retirement is a perfect opportunity to go and live a dream life in the sun, except that involves a large readjustment, change in financial circumstances and separation from family and friends.

Stress of moving39 - Business readjustment
In theory, business owners are at an advantage when they move abroad, having the skills and previous experience of running a business. However, the reality of trying to set up a business in a new country, with new rules and a new market, is not so easy.

38 - Change in financial state
Unless expats move abroad with work or have a job already arranged, they will be relying on savings to get them started in their new life. Establishing a new income, finding a job or setting up a new business can take time, during which financial security will be a constant issue.

36 - Change to a different line of work
Expats have to be flexible and adapt to the work that is available in the area they move to, which very often will not be the same work they were doing before.

32 - Major mortgage
Buying that dream home in the sun means taking on a substantial mortgage which may be a second mortgage if expats keep their home in the UK.

30 - Foreclosure of loan or mortgage
Unfortunately, this is a growing reality for expats hit by the economic crisis and huge hikes in their mortgage payments due to the currency exchange rates.

20 - Change in residence

Not only do expats move house, they move country!

Score 150 or below and you only have a slight risk of stress-related illness. Score 150-300 and you have a moderate risk of stress-related illness. Score 300 or more and you are at serious risk of stress-related illness.

Other events that apply to expats within the first year of moving and take their score to above 300 include:

20 - Change in working hours or conditions
20 - Change in schools
19 - Change in recreation
19 - Change in church activities
18 - Change in social activities
17 - Minor mortgage or loan
15 - Change in the number of family reunions
16 - Change in sleeping habits
15 - Change in number of family reunions
15 - Change in eating habits
13 - Vacation
12 - Christmas

Those numbers quickly add up for expats who are so often taken by surprise by just how big the adjustment can be in the beginning. The good news is that the effects do not have to be permanent. Any big change is difficult. It just so happens that choosing the expat lifestyle is particularly demanding,and so many stressful life events are thrown in the mix in a short space of time!

Written by: Yolanda Solo (Consultant)

About the author:

Yolanda Solo is an expat consultant offering coaching and support for expats in Spain. Get a free consultation and discover how much better your experience can be when you have your own personal consultant to help you.

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Patricia said:
30 August 2011 @ 16:22


Another aspect to take into account is the following scenario: one of the spouses wants to move to Spain (or wherever) and the other doesn't. I have encountered this situation often enough in the course of my work. The one wanting to move to Spain over-rides the one not wanting.
I have had one spouse whisper to me: "I don't want to do this at all, but Mildred/June or Jack/Terry is absolutely set on it."
Worse still, Mildren or June want to buy a place in Spain to keep up with Jilly Jones or Helen Smith down the road....
A real recipe for disaster.


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