Tips for developing emotional resilience

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Linda Janssen is an American expat living in The Netherlands. She blogs at

Generally defined, emotional resilience is the psychological ability to adapt to the significant challenges, misfortunes and major set-backs that life throws our way. It allows us to either maintain or return to a positive view of life after turmoil.

I’ve come to believe that fostering emotional resilience is important for everyone, but is absolutely essential for those living overseas.

Expats who are not emotionally resilient may face a number of challenges, a range of potential risks that include alienation and even depression. Here I offer a slew of tips in four broad categories that can help expats bolster their emotional resilience. These include making personal connections, communicating, visualizing positive outcomes and being optimistic.

Make Connections

In our relationship with ourselves, our family, friends and the outside world, we all need to feel wanted, valued and loved. But in order to receive that love and support we first need to connect with others through meaningful relationships.

  • Reach out to others: build new friendships on an individual or small group basis.
  •  Seek out newcomer, expat or international clubs and groups that share info and facilitate meeting others.
  •  Make an effort to meet and interact with neighbors, colleagues and others you meet.
  • Check with local international schools, community organizations and religious houses of worship for programs and activities open to the public.
  • Expand your interests: study the local language, acquire a new skill or take a class.


This covers a wide range of personal interactions in which we learn to feel safe sharing our feelings, thoughts, concerns and needs with others. Openness is key to effective communication.

  • Accurately identify and acknowledge your emotions. Honestly admitting you’re lonely or frustrated helps you reach out.
  • Understand that you are not alone. It is common to feel alienated, adrift or sad at times during transitions from people/places we care about to new situations.
  • Be heard and understood: make it a point to share your thoughts and feelings verbally, in writing or by experiencing activities or events with others.
  • Embrace technology to stay in touch with family/friends via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, text-messaging, phone calls, but NOT at the expense of building new connections.


Whether ‘seeing’ a way to get through a tough day, finding a more productive state of mind or developing a better life situation, this takes many forms.

  • Review past behavior/experience from relevant situations. This reinforces confidence and helps you plan steps to move ahead.
  • Imagine improvement and expect good results. This helps make you receptive to bringing about change.
  • Self-care is crucial: stay active (endorphins help mood!), get enough rest, eat/drink sensibly.
  • Utilize stress management or relaxation techniques, meditation and prayer. Learn to resolve conflict in positive ways.
  • Write, talk or act your way through challenges. Be creative with a journal, poetry, painting, drawing, music, dance.

Be Optimistic

More than simply taking a hopeful or more positive view, this form of positive psychology is also actively future-oriented.

  • Set goals, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, then plan ahead.
  • Realize that there is no one ‘right’ way. Remain open to finding your way, and be flexible.
  • Maintain perspective and realize that difficult times do eventually pass. Transitions can be tough, but the only way is through them.
  • Remind yourself regularly of upcoming activities or events. If you don’t find yourself looking forward to them, at least give them a chance. You may enjoy them once involved, while also interacting with others.
  • Incorporate humor in daily life to feel better, improve interactions with others.

Linda A. Janssen is an American expat with an M.P.I.A and more than 20 years experience working in the international arena. She writes primarily on expat and cross-cultural issues. She is working on a book on Emotional Resilience in Expat Life and blogs at Linda currently lives in The Netherlands.

Tom says:

Being expat is fun, but also hard and stressful. Thanks a lot for these tips, they’re really useful!