The Stages of Cultural Adjustment (Part 1 of 3)

When thinking about and planning to move to a new country, the number of logistical preparations to take care of can seem endless.  Especially if you are moving not just by yourself, but with a partner and children in tow.  Sorting out housing, schools, cars, documents – documents! – and much more, add up to many, many (wo)man hours of work. 

You finally get each and every item crossed off the list, you arrive in Italy, and here you are.  Ready to begin your life abroad.   How can you expect to feel?

Adjusting to a new culture is a process, and not always a linear one.  There are ups and downs, stops and starts, and in the beginning it can often feel like one step forward, two steps back.  But if you know in advance how the process of cultural adaptation generally works for most people, you can weather the highs and lows better, knowing that you will indeed eventually feel at home in your new culture.

Stage One: The Honeymoon

You’re living in Italy!  Wow!  In this initial stage, experiences are new and exciting and enthusiasm is high.  You’re curious and interested, and the novelty of your new surroundings is stimulating.  Your interaction and involvement with your new culture is still fairly superficial, more like a tourist than a resident. You’re intrigued by the similarities and differences, and you generally feel energetic and positive.

In this early time of adjustment, it’s important to enjoy all the fun and excitement, but also to remember that it’s a phase.  Just like all relationships that last, the heady, giddy days of early infatuation give way to deeper, more challenging – and meaningful – levels of awareness and acceptance, and your relationship with Italy will be no different.

Stage Two: Culture Shock

The bloom is off the rose. Where you first felt curious, you now feel critical.  Excitement has been replaced by frustration.  The sense of newness and opportunity has morphed into a sense of isolation and loneliness.  You may be feeling overwhelmed, homesick, anxious or helpless.  You may think of yourself as less competent.  You are amazed at how you handled daily tasks big and small in your home country with nary a thought, and you now find you are undone by even the smallest of setbacks.  You find yourself getting angry that things don’t work “the way they should.”  That almost every single thing you want or need to get done takes infinitely longer, both because you have to learn how to do even the most mundane tasks from scratch, and because again, things just don’t work like they do back home. 

During this phase, you may be missing all the people, places and things that are familiar, as well as a sense of belonging.  You are acutely aware of the differences that separate you from those in your adopted country, and the divide can feel isolating.  Stereotypes and prejudices might surface and you can start to have a less positive view of the culture and people.  Small frustrations or setbacks can feel like major catastrophes, and your coping mechanisms are at an all-time low.  How will you ever be happy here?

This is the most challenging phase of cultural adaptation and the time in which it is especially important to have the necessary support and resources.  Seeking out people with whom you can openly discuss your experiences, e.g., fellow ex-pats, locals who have lived abroad and a professional counselor, can all provide invaluable understanding, advice and encouragement.  Just as the honeymoon phase passed, so too will this more difficult time of culture shock from living and functioning fully in your new country. 

Next time in part two of the series, we will discuss Stage Three, Adjustment and Adaptation.

Published previously in Easy Milano and Easy Circle: Two Worlds, One Relationship

Are you in an intercultural relationship? Do you know firsthand the unique joys of having a partner who enriches your worldview, and the frustrations of having a partner with whom you are often on different pages, based on different points of reference, different societal norms and countless different cultural nuances? In my counseling practice, I work with many intercultural couples who find that in spite of enjoying the richness of two worlds in their relationship and family – and often two or more languages – they are also struggling with how to bridge the gap.

At first glance, the issues seem to be no different than the major stumbling blocks for couples in general, regardless of background. Specifically, the areas of finance, child rearing and overall communication are those that come up most often. What is different though, is that for intercultural couples, the expectation of “societal norm” varies enormously, creating even more fertile ground for miscommunication, discord and, eventually, general discontent, if not managed properly. Add to that a different mother tongue for each of the partners, which can hamper even the best attempts at open communication, and you have a recipe for a potentially challenging situation.

While each intercultural couple and family is unique, I often see patterns with Italian/Anglo Saxon unions regarding family finances, parenting and gender roles. For example, Anglo Saxon women raised in their home countries often have a culturally and societally driven expectation of open communication and shared information regarding the state of the couples’ finances. However, Italian men, who were raised with a wholly different set of culturally and societally driven expectations often have a much less transparent approach, and do not expect to talk balance sheets, investments and daily spending with their partner. Neither of these attitudes or expectations is good, bad, right or wrong. It’s a question of not only first being able to understand where each of you is coming from, but often, why? Understanding more about the culture, attitudes and societal norms that shaped your partner will lay the foundation for greater understanding and more successful outcomes when navigating complex issues.

Evidence-based research on couples and on what differentiates happy, successful unions from the unhappy, unsuccessful ones shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict and create ways to support each other’s hopes for the future. While some challenges that intercultural couples face may differ from partners who hail from the same country, they can take heart remembering that a strong friendship, an agreed upon approach for handling conflict and finding ways to support each other are objectives for couples one and all.

So, what can couples do to work toward these objectives?

To help build and strengthen friendship, couples can start with remembering to continually update what they think they know about their partner. We all change over time, and many couples stop asking each other open-ended questions. Remember when you were first getting to know your partner and you asked questions in an effort to learn exactly who this person in front of you was? What you learned in those early stages should be consistently updated and added to over time.

All couples have conflict, but it’s how those conflicts are managed that make the difference between happy and unhappy couples. For every couple, some issues are resolvable and others are perpetual, and for the perpetual problems, it is key to develop a productive dialogue. For example, imagine you and your partner have never been able to agree on how to manage the housekeeping, since one of you is neat and the other is messy. The issue of having very different approaches is not going to change. It is how you and your partner talk to each other about managing the issue that will make the difference.

When couples find themselves gridlocked in the same arguments over perpetual problems, what often lies underneath are feelings and dreams that aren’t being communicated. The next time you and your partner find you are having the same fight over the same issue, try to listen to your partner the way a friend would listen. Ask questions that draw out your partner and their point of view. Suspend judgment and try to listen to what’s behind your partner’s position on the problem.

Anxiety Attack Symptoms

Are you wondering what to do about anxiety attack symptoms in Milanyour anxiety attack symptoms in Milan?

Are you aware that anxiety attack symptoms can sometimes mimic physical problems? Every single one of us has experienced what it’s like to be anxious. From childhood where you may be feeling nervous about school to adulthood, feeling nervous about a change at work – anxiety is a normal part of every person’s life.

Worrying is a natural part of being human and you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t worry at one time or another. But when worry crosses a line and leaves you unable function throughout the day, then you could be having a problem with anxiety.

The feeling itself isn’t bad to have. Anxiety works to keep us out of trouble. Like when you’re out hiking in the woods and come across a bear, anxiety is caused over possibly being hurt by the bear. That’s a healthy anxiety and one that can work for your benefit because it shows you that you need to run away from whatever danger is in front of you.

The emotion isn’t unhealthy when it comes as it’s needed to help us or when it appears in relation to a situation or event where a person would normally experience it. What makes it a problem is when anxiety begins to steal your normal. You find that you can’t function around other people and you can’t function during your day-to-day activities. You might feel like you can’t function at all.

The anxiety attack symptoms you should be aware of arrive as physical signs. Losing sleep, trouble falling asleep at night or if you’re able to go for days with no sleep is a sign of extreme anxiety. You might even feel tired, but no matter how much you want to sleep, you just can’t.

Another way this emotion shows up is found in the way the heart reacts. Anxiety causes the heart to pound like you’re very frightened or you’ve finished a long, hard run. You may begin to breathe faster in shorter, quicker breaths. Headaches that rebound or won’t go away are a sign that something’s going on, too. You might begin to shake or have periods where you feel dizzy.

Other symptoms include hyperventilating and panic that cloaks you with a heaviness you can’t shake. You might experience a sense of impending doom, even when you know nothing is going on externally to bring on that feeling.

The time lapse for an episode can vary from mere seconds to almost an hour. They may come and go several times throughout the day or you may have one on one day but nothing the next. There might not be a pattern at all to when you get the symptoms.

Anxiety attack symptoms in Milan can be very scary to go through, but they can be managed with the right tools. You need to learn how to cope with the anxiety. Yes, it’s scary, but you don’t have to live with the fear. There is help available.

Help for depression anxiety in Milan

depression anxiety in MilanExpats often suffer without realizing that help for anxiety depression in Milan is available. Failing to understand exactly what anxiety is and how it’s so closely threaded together with depression can cause the person dealing with it to feel like the burden is pretty heavy to bear. Not being able to sleep. Not being able to get out of bed. Not wanting to socialize with friends or even leave the house for a coffee.

Anxiety is living in a constant state of fear – one where worries seem insurmountable. The uneasiness surrounds the sufferer like a thick fog and the road seems shrouded in thoughts of doom and apprehension.

The first think you should know about anxiety is that it’s not your fault you feel the way you do. You didn’t do anything to cause it to happen – it just happens to some people to a stronger degree than it happens to others. Many expats think they are the only one – it’s actually very common, unfortunately. Continue reading

Coping Strategies for Anxiety

coping strategies anxiety Milan ItalyIf you have a lot of stress in your life, learning coping strategies for anxiety can help you manage that stress. While some of the strategies cannot replace the care of a doctor or the relief some medications can give, these steps are ones you can begin right away. Expats are likely to need coping strategies for anxiety in Milan Italy even more than they might in their home country. Stress can come from dealing with the day to day tasks that would be carefree if not done in another language and culture.

The first step in handling anxiety is to make sure you spend some time every single day doing something fun. Laughter helps to loosen the tight bands of stress in the body and can help you relax. Whatever it is that you find joy in doing, seek that out. Head to the theater and watch a funny movie or have a night out with your friends.

When you have situations or people in your life who trigger anxiety in Milan, then you should avoid them if you can. Surround yourself with people who see the positive side of life and can laugh about the irritations rather than people who get down about them. Spend time with ‘glass half full’ kind of people. They may seem harder to find in Milan, but they are there. Italians sometimes seem to thrive on anxiety. Seek out other expats when you feel anxiety coming on. Usually a quick conversation with other foreigners can do wonders for your stress level.

Continue reading

Alleviating anxiety

alleviating anxiety in Milan

Alleviating anxiety is something we all need to learn how to do. For an expat, alleviating anxiety in Milan can mean the difference between enjoying your time or counting the days until you can leave. Anxiety shows up in many different physical ways. You might not even know that’s what’s going on within your body. Anxiety can cause your heart rate to beat faster than it normally would for no apparent reason.

You can get cramps in your stomach that are so sharp, you’ll wonder if you need to go to the doctor. Breathing escalates and a thousand thoughts race through your mind. You might even feel as if you’re about to pass out. In fact, your entire body, from head to toe can be affected by this feeling.

The most important aspect of dealing with anxiety that you should know is that you’re not alone. Millions of people deal with this and find that when they seek help, they learn how to deal with this very real feeling. Many of these people are expats dealing with alleviating anxiety in Milan. They also learn that they aren’t dealing with any type of mental illness, and that what they feel is common.

There are different types of anxiety. For example, most people feel anxious when they have an important meeting or when the boss calls them into the office and they’re not sure why. Those are normal feelings. Many expats feel anxious when they have to deal with government agencies in Milan or elsewhere in Italy.

The root of anxiety is found deep within the body in what’s known as our danger center. The feeling that we must fight or flee. You may have heard it referred to as ‘fight or flight’ feeling. This is actually a protective instinct that everyone has and adrenaline is often a by-product of anxiety. That’s why people can sometimes do seemingly superhuman feats. Now that you understand what anxiety is, let’s take a look at how people can work on alleviating anxiety.

Know that you can’t always avoid the stressful situation brings on how you feel. What you can do is change your response to that. In other words, you can act and stop reacting. If you’re in the middle of a stressful experience and can take a break, then do it. Go away from the event, the person or even the thoughts and do something else. Give yourself permission to take a mental break.

Do what you can to simplify your life. If you currently live a lifestyle where there’s a lot of chaos because life seems to happen around you, put up some stop signs. Stop rushing around in the mornings trying to get ready for your day. Get everything you need to do in the morning ready before you go to bed. Write out a list of what needs to be accomplished. Rather than making you feel worse, a list will help break down what seems overwhelming into manageable portions.

Alleviating anxiety differs from person to person. Some find it helpful to buy self help books or programs. Others find they need medication. Some expats find that professional counseling is what is most effective. Whatever works for you, know that you don’t have to live with anxiety ruling your steps.

If you would like to discuss professional counseling, please call me at +39 349 130 5648 – Studio Karen Rigatti. I am here to help you.

Finding an English-speaking counselor in Milan

When deciding to seek professional counseling, the next step might be to find an English-speaking counselor in Milan. I am an American certified professional counselor practicing in Milan, Italy. I am a member of the American Counseling Association and Assocounseling. In addition to being a highly trained professional, I have first-hand experience with moving to and living in Italy. Helping you to have a healthy and happy state of mind is my top priority. To schedule a complimentary consultation, call 349 130 5648.

Are you suffering from culture shock?

culture shock in milan italyAre you suffering from culture shock in Milan? Many people don’t realize how stressful it can be to move to Italy from another country. Moving to Milan might be a dream come true, but you should realize that getting acclimated is sometimes difficult. You may think everything is going smoothly and then suddenly be faced with situations that don’t make sense to you. It’s common to find yourself questioning whether you’ve misread the facts or committed some social gaffe. You may be replaying scenes over and over in your head trying to determine if your sense of “normal” is off kilter. You might not know how to react to others, wondering if their behavior is unusual or not. Continue reading

Anxiety in Milan

Anxiety MilanMany of us feel anxiety at some point in our lives. Worry and anxiety serve a purpose in our lives – they cause us to pause and consider the consequences of choices before going forward. So much information to process and so many decisions to make – it’s common to feel anxious, especially living away from all that’s familiar. Sometimes, though, excessive anxiety damages your quality of life. It may cause symptoms that you don’t expect. Difficulty sleeping, irritability and having a hard time concentrating might show up in your everyday experiences.
You may want to consider professional counseling in Milan. Contact me for a complimentary consultation to decide if it’s right for you.

Couples therapy in Milan

couples therapy Milan ItalyThere may come a time when you realize that your relationship with your spouse or significant other is not what it once was. Communication problems might be at the heart of the matter – what you think you’re saying is not necessarily what your partner is hearing. A betrayal of trust may have occurred – this might be another relationship, sharing private conversations, or failing to keep a promise. Financial pressures might play a part – you disagree on spending or saving. Outside pressures from work may make you less able to engage fully when you’re together. Living abroad adds its own special challenges – everyone reacts differently to a change in environment and cultural differences may affect one partner more strongly than the other. You may disagree on relationships with other family members, whether it’s different parenting styles or maintaining a healthy rapport with in-laws.

If you think couples therapy in Milan might be the key to improving your relationship, I have the strategies and tools to help.