Why All Expats Need Regular Periods of Conscious Rest

It is no secret that today’s world is characterized by long working hours, constant connectivity and high degrees of stress at all times. A lot of people struggle with disconnecting from work and being reachable, let alone creating periods of pure resting.

For expatriates, this phenomenon can become an even bigger problem than for other people.

With that, I do not mean that expatriates work more than other people. Or that they need to stay reachable and connected than other people. Rather, the problems that expatriates are facing when it comes to adapting to a new environment come in addition to the existing problems of the modern society.

The constant exposure to stress in addition to the mental capacity it requires to adapt to a new cultural environment often lead to mental overload among expatriates.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a researcher at Stanford University, writes in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less that conscious ways of resting are a necessary element in every person’s life in order to remain productive, creative and satisfied.

Expatriates need to plan consciously during which blocks of time they work or expose themselves to other forms of stress, and during which blocks of time they make the space for conscious ways of resting.

Conscious resting does not mean what we typically have in mind when we hear the word resting – inactivity. It does not imply that during these periods of time you should do nothing or get passive exposure to mediums of consumption like social media, Youtube videos or television. Rather, it means that you should follow an activity that will focus the attention of your brain away from your usual work and towards something different.

There are different kinds of conscious resting which all have their own benefits

  • Sports or physical activity: anybody who wants to do heavy mental work also needs physical exercise. Exercise is a great way of releasing stress and shifting your conscious attention away from work.
  • Deep play: Deep play is the equivalent of deep work (long uninterrupted times of concentration on your work), only that it refers to a hobby like playing the guitar, playing chess or acting in a theater performance. In comparison to wasting your time with passive consumption habits, deep play will allow you to enter a state of flow and thus reach a high degree of satisfaction while at the same time increasing your ability to concentrate and be creative.
  • Exposure to nature: once we are surrounded by nature, we will inevitably feel much lighter from the stresses of daily life. Spending some time on your own or with somebody close to you in nature will allow you to reconnect with yourself and gain some strong boost in energy.
  • Going for a walk: It comes to no surprise that a large number of the world’s most important inventions have been “discovered” during a long walk. Walking is perhaps one of the activities that allow you to let your thoughts wander the most, giving your unconscious mind the time to reflect on all the different things that are currently on your mind.
  • Going for a vacation or sabbatical: getting out your usual environment will give you the space to reflect on all the different issues that are currently affecting your life. If you are able to take your mind with you to your new location rather than staying in thoughts at work, then you will inevitably feel a large chunk of the burden of your daily stresses being lifted.
  • Sleeping: many people today see sleep as a necessary evil and try to reduce it as much as possible. That is a grave mistake. Sleeping is, in fact, an active process that allows the brain to process all the new experiences that it has been exposed to during the day. As such, sleeping will allow you to integrate all the new learning points of the new environment and slowly form your new self as an expat.

So, what are the next steps?

Plan your resting times in the same way in which you plan your work. Build strong daily routines in which you automatically plan in the different aspects of conscious resting. All of them are important in themselves.

Some of these activities may actually involve more exposure to the local culture, while others may give you some space for yourself. Both of these options are incredibly important. For example, let’s say that you currently do not actively do any sport and you want to choose one to practice in your new host culture.

Which sport you choose greatly depends on whether you want the sport to give you more exposure to your host culture, or whether you want the sport to be an activity that gives you time exclusively for rest. If you want to have exposure to local culture, you may choose a local sport that is done in groups. One example for this might be to take Kung-Fu lessons in China, where you would be constantly in touch with other attendees. If you want it to be a solitary activity purely for the sake of rest, however, you may choose a sport like jogging or going to the gym.

The same principle also holds true for deep play. Some forms of deep play are solitary in nature (drawing or writing), while others involve other people (chess or dancing salsa). Which one you should choose greatly depends on the outcomes you want to achieve through them.

Now, you should ask yourself: which of these areas of conscious resting have you neglected so far throughout your life? How can you develop the right habits to bring more of these activities into your life? And, most importantly, how can you plan your days in order to make space for conscious rest?


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