Mental Health & Wellness

Settlement Stress or Cultural Shock: Tips to Keep Healthy

stress_smMoving to a new country creates stress because of the new and different surroundings, and the loss of natural networks of support, such as family and friends. Many people feel that they have to start from zero; they feel that their ability to deal with their life has decreased because of language barriers or because they don't know how to do things such as banking, looking for housing, connecting their utilities or registering their children at school. This creates an overall sense of lack of control and uncertainty.

Feeling sad, anxious, frustrated, lost, and overwhelmed might be a natural reaction during the first few years of settling in a new country. These are not signs of mental health problems, they are normal reactions to the huge change you and your family are going through.

People react differently to the same stressors. Some people are more affected than others. It depends on personality types, family upbringing, life experiences, genetics, available resources and the ability to access them.

Addressing settlement stress is key to maintaining your well-being.

Here are some things that many newcomers say are useful to get back their mental, spiritual and social balance that helped them to overcome this stress.

Have a healthy outlook:

  • Accept change - living in a new country affects your life, change is part of this process
  • Learn from past experiences when you faced stressful changes. Remember the things you did in the past that helped you to overcome the stress and to take control.
  • Explore your abilities and trust that you have internal strength that you have developed throughout your life.
  • Set up short, medium and long-term goals for your settlement process. Check regularly where you are by paying attention to small details that show progress (e.g. "I learned how to take the bus.").
  • Balance and value what you're doing: learning English, doing household chores, playing with your children are as important as looking for a job or earning money. Remember, you are in it together.
  • Acknowledge that this is a time of urgency or even crisis that will pass and will make you and your family stronger. You will increase skills to deal with the new environment.

Have a strong network of support:

  • Make a list of friends and family members here and abroad that you trust who can support you to deal with the stress. Share your experiences, hopes, fears and successes with them. Learn from others who have gone through a similar process.
  • Be open to creating new relationships that might come from attending English classes, workshops, and recreational activities.
  • Volunteer - many immigrants say that by volunteering they feel productive, and make friends.
  • Get involved in community activities, cultural celebrations, and social and recreational events where you can relax and meet people.
  • Have a meal together with your family at least once a day. Turn off the TV, computer, and cell phones!
  • Keep cultural traditions that strengthen your family bonds. Invite local Canadians and people from other cultural groups to participate.
  • Get involved in activities that help you to connect with Canadians and learn from the new culture. For example, attend important celebrations like Canada Day, Natal Day and the Pride Parade. Attend programs at the library near your home, join a walking group, or take your kids to museums and other historical places.
  • Pray and participate in religious activities if you are a spiritual person.
  • Join a group advocating for social and justice issues (anti-racism, community well-being, anti-poverty, environment protection)

Have a strong body and mind:

  • Mind and body are very connected. Exercising (walking, gardening, jogging, swimming, cycling, sports, going to the gym, dancing) has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Yoga and meditation are very useful resources for many people. Explore your neighbourhood; join neighbours or classmates to go for walks.
  • Do things that you enjoy and that have helped you in the past to relax (cooking, gardening, handcrafting, playing music or games, etc.) Join a community garden or a community kitchen. Go to the library near your home to learn new crafts or board games.
  • Take care with your eating and drinking. Notice what gives you energy in the morning and what decreases it. Healthy breakfasts boost your energy during the day. Maintain the healthy eating habits you brought from your country and explore new ideas. Too much caffeine (coffee, soda) can affect your sleep. Drinking lots of water helps to deal with fatigue. Attend a nutrition session at the Community Health Centre near your house and/or learn about the Canadian food guide.
  • Get a good night's sleep. Create good sleeping habits - for example, go to bed at the same time every night and avoid screen time when you go to bed


Wheel of Life

WheelOfLife2016The Life Wheel is a tool adapted from different traditions to help individuals to reflect on different areas of their lives.  It is recommended that people reflect on their lives using this tool every three to six months as a way to record and observe personal change.

  1. Reflect on what you are doing in each area. Some people like to rank things.  For example, 10 mean you are doing well very often.  5, that you do some things sometimes. 0, means you are not doing things.
  2. Once you have reviewed all the things you are doing, reflect on how well they are supporting you to feel well.
  3. Notice if there are areas that need more attention. Notice if there areas where you are putting a lot of attention  that drain you energy
  4. Think about new ideas to include and think about actions that are not helpful and you need to decrease or stop doing.
  5. Set up goals to introduce changes and review them periodically. Remember to set up small, realistic goals.

Here there are some examples of the things included in each area.  You can come up with more ideas of things to do to take care of each particular area of your life.

Physical – The Body

  1. What I eat, drink, etc, helps me stay healthy
  2. I sleep well, go for walks, dance, exercise, play, use safe sex practices
  3. I have regular appointments with a health practitioners (family doctor, nurse)
  4. I have living spaces that are comfortable, with good light and ventilation

Mental – Thinking

  1. I have realistic goals that help to guide my life.
  2. I do things that stimulate my mind such as reading, volunteering or doing interesting things
  3. I limit the amount of time I’m connected to electronic devises
  4. I’m aware when I start thinking negatively about everything and stop myself to try to see the full picture (good and bad sides)
  5. I perceive my mistakes as new opportunities for learning

Emotional – Feeling

  1. I appreciate myself and people who are around me
  2. I can notice when I’m getting angry and have mechanisms to express them without hurting me or hurting others
  3. I have ways to relax and bring peace when I’m feeling stressful and in emotional distress
  4. I can ask for help when I’m not able to cope

Spiritual – Connection

  1. I believe my life to have direction and meaning
  2. I feel connected to a larger community that tries to make a better world
  3. My faith gives me guidance and comfort
  4. I connect with others sharing my believes or/and faith

Adapted from The Life Wheel by the Opening Doors Project. Funded by IRCC and the Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto Branch


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