Five Safety Stops for Expatriate Health and Wellbeing


Expatriate Health and Wellbeing has been on my mind since the Pandemic. During the height of the Pandemic, my mother could not find yeast for weeks. Her village in southern Germany had a yeast shortage. We didn’t have a shortage of anything here in Zurich, neither toilet paper nor yeast, even though demand for both was higher than in “normal” times. I went to SPAR and bought five packs of dry yeast. The man at the post office laughed when I told him what was in the small parcel. My mother and aunt love to bake, even in “normal” times. The price for the package was higher than the value of the goods, but this was the only thing I could do for my family from here aside from ordering Easter presents on the Internet. I was so happy that I could help them with a small gesture. 

Expats can quickly burn out in a crisis. When I’m close to burning out or feeling low energy, I have developed the concept of a “safety stop.” If you are a diver, you know what a safety stop is. Before you dive to the surface, you sit at a certain level (around 3 meters below the surface) for five minutes. You breathe and wait and let the nitrogen get out of your body. Then, you move back up to the surface. As a diver, you know that you always need enough oxygen to get back up again and make the safety stop with your diving buddy. You don’t watch fish at 30 m depth until you are completely out of oxygen. When I had COVID-19, I often remembered my diving experience. Probably because sometimes I felt like I was breathing through an oxygen mask and that I had too much nitrogen in my blood, I often felt this slight dizziness. I survived without artificial support. I took the safety stop just in time before burning out completely. I was taken to the hospital and treated well.

As an expat, migrant, nomad, or TCK, you are often more resilient than colleagues who have always lived in their home country. However, you are also more prone to suffering from mental health issues. I see four main reasons why that is:

  1. You often don’t have the same social support network here, or your friendships are too new to ask for much personal support.
  2. You tend to identify strongly with their work and often neglect other parts of their lives to perform better. They shrug when I ask them about their hobbies.
  3. You are in the life phase of “kings and queens.” (Carl Gustav Jung). You have obligations towards their children, and their parents are in an age group where they often need support. They are pushed between caring for the youngsters and caring for the elders. 
  4. In the first year in a new country, there is a high likelihood that you will still suffer from cultural adjustment issues. Often, the emotional reactions are not, however, attributed to cultural transition but are attributed to work-related and family stressors. To relax, alcohol, soft drugs, and medication are frequently overused on assignments.

These factors might make you more prone to mental health issues. 

1 – Take a Whole Weekend Off and Go Offline for Expatriate Health and Wellbeing

We tend to spend too much time in front of screens. Going offline for a whole weekend will be difficult, but it can help you focus on yourself again. I recommend you plan to go offline together with your partner and children and start an offline challenge. Before the weekend starts collect ideas of what you want to do together, and everyone should have at least an hour to themselves daily.

Plan light exercise for the whole family, such as hiking in the woods. You might discover something new in the neighborhood or nearby.

Example of Kanban Bard

2 – Write down 25 Priorities


We prefer an offline method, such as a flipchart with Post-it notes for this reflection. The advantage is that you will always have a visual representation of your priorities and can tick off what you have done. You probably have a whiteboard in your office, but using a Kanban board in your living room might seem too intrusive. Make it a fun activity, use colors, and ask your kids to help you. Paint signs instead of writing words. And most importantly, stop at 25. The rule is that you cannot have more than 25 priorities. Break down bigger milestones into smaller cobblestones. Give yourself a chance to tick off items every Friday.

3 – Talk to all Your Family Members About Your Assignment 

In these times, you might wonder if your assignment is still on the right track and if the host country is where you want to be. It would be best if you discussed this topic with all your family members. Find out what they think about the host country, how they feel about being here, and if an extension is in the cards. Maybe this is when you feel particularly grateful about being in Switzerland, not anywhere else. Write down what you appreciate about being right here, right now. Take photos of places you love. Meet people you missed.


A Memory of 2020 Pandemic Start
A Memory of the 2020 Pandemic Start

4 – Seek Professional Help for Expatriate Health and Wellbeing

Feldenkrais: If you feel exhausted but mentally stable, you can work with relaxation methods such as listening to classical music while working or practicing Feldenkrais exercises by Ryan Nagy. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: You can also try Progressive Muscle Relaxation, which you can find on YouTube or buy from medical doctors. 

Practicing Active Meditation: Active Meditation includes movement. I have created a short video to show how to start, and many more are on YouTube. 

Short-term Therapy: Good short-term therapies build on Steve de Shazer’s concepts. These are geared towards crises and dealing with them. Often, they are based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and take a maximum of ten sessions. 

Employee Assistance Programs: You can also check with your Global Mobility Team to see if your employer offers employee assistance programs or support through companies like International SOS.

If you are constantly nervous, angry, irritable, or feel like crying easily, you should see a medical doctor. First, find out what your condition is.

You can also contact me and make an appointment here:

5 – Establish Routines and Rituals When Working From Home

For certain personality types, routines and rituals help maintain sanity. For example, you could allow yourself one hour of meditative, creative work in the morning. Many of my clients work better when they go for a run or walk early in the morning; others love an hour of gardening, creative writing, or playing the piano. I also recommend setting your alarm for specific times to mark the beginning and end of the work day. Set the alarm for break times. For example, you should set your alarm for your lunch break because otherwise, you might work through it when you work from home. 

You can also set up lunch and “apéro” dates. These are good for getting out of the house and helping build professional relationships. 

We need yeast to bake bread, informal chats, and conversations about canteen food with colleagues. We need to get dressed in nice clothes, commute to work, and have a distance between “work” and “leisure.”

Otherwise, you lose your fire and inspiration, burn out, and wonder what your purpose in life is. You are strong and have proven that you are keeping your family together. However, your mental health should matter to you more than anything else. 






The Global Rockstar Album

My favorite Productivity Hacks

Rise of Weinberger – Building up Strength during the Pandemic – Part 4


The Passion Games


Sleepless in Switzerland – Getting Through the Pandemic – Part 2



One thought on “Five Safety Stops for Expatriate Health and Wellbeing

  1. Pingback: What is an Expat (or Intercultural) Coach?

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