How Immigration Can Impact Your Mental Health

Nothing could have prepared you for how it feels to live in a foreign country. Even if you made the choice to leave your home country to give yourself or your family a better life, it doesn’t change the struggles you encounter as an immigrant.

There are days where you might not feel accepted or welcomed by those around you. Other days, intense feelings of loneliness will come on so strong that they can make you question why you left home in the first place. Then once you reconnect with those reasons, you begin to feel the pressure again – the stress of having to suffer through all this for a better life. Only, sometimes, it doesn’t feel better at all.

Given the unique set of struggles and feelings that immigrants experience worldwide, immigration can greatly impact one’s mental health. Two key things that you must remember as immigrants are that you are not alone, and it does not have to feel like this forever. Taking care of your mental health as an immigrant is essential, and though it may seem easier said than done, it doesn’t have to be – not if you have the right set of practical tips to help you not only cope but thrive.

If you feel like you don’t belong

A sense of belonging is something that everyone loses touch with at some point in life. But as an immigrant, you might feel as if you have lost a sense of belonging for good. After all, when you look around you, nothing is the same. Your community has changed, as have your neighbors and your coworkers – everything and everyone is different.

Even if you have formed new friendships since moving to a new place, you might not have anyone around you at all who knows what immigration feels like – who knows what you feel like. You might catch yourself thinking how nice it would be if more people understood or at least invested interest in the community, country, and even family you love but left behind.

What you can do: Volunteer

Getting involved with a local organization will enable you to deepen your connection with your community and others. It is a great way to cultivate a sense of belonging by meeting new people who you know at least share one common interest: the greater good.

Volunteering also offers a world of benefits for your mental health. When you are suffering, giving back can help ease some of your emotional pain and mental turmoil because you are helping someone else – even if they are struggling in an entirely different way. Lending a hand can help direct your focus toward something positive, giving you a break from the tough stuff and unhelpful thought processes. On the days you feel the most like you don’t belong or do not matter, lend a hand and remember how important a role it is to do a task for someone who cannot.

If you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self or self-worth

When you leave your home country, everything about life as you knew it shifts to the point where you don’t even know who you are. On top of family, friends, and everything else, you might also feel like you’ve lost yourself along the way, too. There are many reasons why immigrants can end up feeling this way.

For one, you come from a place where the person you are always felt validated in some way. It was a place where everyone around you shared similar experiences, interests, or beliefs. When that level of familiarity suddenly changes, and nobody knows anything about who you are or where you come from, feeling disconnected from others can cause you to feel disconnected from yourself. You may sometimes take on a different persona at work and home or close yourself off from the world.

There is also the culture shock that immigrants experience. Over time, the things that seem more trivial such as unusual foods to the language barriers that interfere with your basic daily routines will undoubtedly begin to annoy and irritate you. In many ways, culture shock can contribute to anxiety, depression, and more profound feelings of loneliness. 

What you can do: Get to know yourself

Moving to a new country doesn’t mean that you have changed, but when you lose touch with who you are and the things you value, it is essential to get reacquainted. One of the best ways to do this is to spend some time alone.

Try incorporating a meditation or yoga practice into your day – something that helps aid your self-exploration while reassuring you that who you are is enough. Alternatively, you can start reading more books or trying out new hobbies. 

As you focus on re-establishing your sense of self, remember that getting to know yourself can also mean accepting and embracing change. Whether or not you pick up any new skills along the way, getting to know yourself better, in general, will make you feel more confident and comfortable in your skin. So when you’re feeling up for it, maybe next time you find a local club or team to engage in these new interests with.

If you feel lonely

As immigrants, it can sometimes feel like you are stuck in time, where the feeling of what it’s like to be home is a distant memory. Loneliness a prevalent issue among immigrants. Sadly, loneliness is not always visible to the outside world, despite more connectedness with the outside being the answer.

The problem with persistent feelings of isolation and a lack of social interaction is their association with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. This mental and emotional impact can also take a physical toll on the body, contributing to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. In other words, connectedness isn’t just a way of coping with the unpleasant feelings of perceived isolation; it is necessary for overall health and wellbeing.

What you can do: Express yourself creatively

You don’t have to consider yourself “creative” to create. You can draw, paint, sketch, knit, build something, or plant something – there are so many ways to transcend and release your negative unfavorable, and distressing emotions through self-expression.

You can also explore expressive writing, a form of writing where you don’t have to worry about structure, spelling, or anything else. Instead, you just write whatever is on your mind, paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. This practice can help you alleviate emotional pain and make you more aware of unhelpful thought patterns.

In terms of loneliness, writing can help you feel more connected to others, even if you don’t ever share your words with anyone. Writing can produce a feeling similar to being in a room with others who listen to the same song or watch the same movie. You don’t have to talk to anyone to know that you are connected to many other immigrants through your shared hardships and experiences.