Written by: Sigrun Sigurjonsdottir, MA, RMFT, ITCA, EMDR.
As you plan your move to Canada, there are many things to consider, and this mental load coupled with the uncertainty of what is waiting for you in your new life or even the fact that you may have had to delay your move due to the pandemic can take a toll on your wellbeing.
Your mental health plays a large part in your resilience and overall adaptability and defines how well you cope with the immigration process. Your ability to adapt can be linked to having the essential psychological bandwidth, and that too has its limits. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you are in the best state possible to stretch that bandwidth and increase your psychological endurance.
7 tips for maintaining and improving your mental health as you plan your move
1. Know your history
Before leaving your home country, ensure you don’t have any underlying mental health issues. If required, seek help before you leave. Also, use the time leading up to your move to develop some good mental health habits.
2. Get adequate sleep
Sleep is crucial to maintain good mental health. In fact, a person can experience a psychotic break if they are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Unfortunately, worries and anxiety can interfere with your sleep and make it harder to fall asleep. Feeling low and hungry can get in the way of sleep and make you more susceptible to mental health issues.
3. Develop a support system
Lean into the support you already have around you and make an effort to establish new friendships. People are social animals; we need to feel connected to other people and have a sense of belonging so we can blossom mentally. There is a good reason why the ultimate punishment in jails is isolation from other people. It’s not a natural state for humans to be isolated.
4. Take a breather
Controlling your breathing is first aid for anxiety. Research has shown the pattern of counting slowly to three while breathing in and to six, slowly, while breathing out is the best way to return your body in a non-anxious state. For best results, place your hand on your belly and ensure it rises and falls with each breath. Practice this for five to 10 minutes at a time, and you will notice an increased ability to control your anxiety.
5. Learn how to meditate
Find a way to give your mind a break in a way that leaves it nourished and rested. You can learn the skill to meditate by using meditation apps such as Headspace or Calm. YouTube also has plenty of free videos you can use to do relaxation exercises, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Find the one that suits you best and form a daily habit of giving your mind a break.
6. Move your body
Having a regular exercise routine is absolutely essential for maintaining good mental health. You don’t need to work out at a gym but if you have the time and money, it can be a good investment. Even a brisk walk for half an hour provides much needed mental health benefits.
7. Watch your diet
Take a look at what you are ingesting because what you put inside your body affects how you feel mentally. Avoid coping with the usage of cannabis, alcohol, or other substances. Those will only numb you temporarily,and your problems will likely return even worse than before.
Common mental health pitfalls to watch out for post-arrival in Canada
Dealing with culture shock
Most immigrants experience a sense of culture shock shortly after arriving in Canada. After spending much of your time, money, and resources to prepare for the move, you soon discover that landing here is only half the journey. Culture shock occurs partly due to the change in environment and the grief of leaving behind your native support network. This can lead to feelings of alienation or feeling less valuable than others. If you don’t know how to respond to these thoughts and feelings, it can make you more susceptible to depression, which is defined as a distortion of thought associated with the feelings of loss, grief, anger, and inadequacy.
Culture shock is also a byproduct of acclimatizing to the Canadian system (which often happens slowly), adapting to new norms and a different way of thinking. Usually, there is a period of transition that is characterized by waiting for something: work, proper housing, paperwork or documentation, driver’s license, professional licenses and so on and so forth.
Navigating “Canadian Experience”
Learning about and picking up new cultural norms takes time, and this may be what some recruiters refer to when they mention the Canadian experience. Hearing the lack of Canadian experience cited as a reason by prospective employers when they’re reluctant to hire you could make you feel as if your whole life and work experience before coming to Canada meant nothing; it can feel very demoralizing and make you think that you’re inferior to other people. This may further push you towards feeling low about your prospects.
Battling anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health concerns for new Canadians. Of course, there are other more serious mental health issues that can occur if prolonged stress is not managed well, which may require professional help and possibly, medication.
Stress is a physical and mental condition that draws from your psychological bandwidth. Immigration is stressful even when everything goes well. Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to manage your stress. So it’s important to plan how you are going to manage your mental health during and after the immigration process.
Most of all, culture shock is the consequence of the things for which you can’t easily plan – all the unknowns and unexpected situations. This can give rise to feelings of uncertainty and even anxiety if you don’t know what to expect. Anxiety is a thought distortion that directly affects your body. It is marked by a tendency to overestimate threats and underestimate your resources and ability to deal with the situation for which you are anxious. Anxiety is an insidious feeling of unease that can become very uncomfortable if left unchecked.
Always keep in mind that the process of moving and settling in is temporary – you will not always feel alienated. Practice self-compassion by reminding yourself that difficult thoughts and emotions are normal, things will get better, and your life will eventually feel more rewarding and holistic. Reach out for help when you feel like you can no longer manage your own mental health. A professional can help you find appropriate and constructive ways to cope.
Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can be challenging to talk about with others, especially when it is not in your first language. Check out PsyMood, a digital tool designed to help you find the support you need in the language that you are most comfortable with. PsyMood considers cultural background, geographical location, interests, and personal needs, amongst other factors, to pair you with service providers for either online or in-person therapy sessions.
About Sigrun Sigurjonsdottir
Sigrun was born and raised in Iceland. She has a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from The University of Central Florida and is pursuing a PhD in Human Sexuality from the International Institute of Clinical Sexology in Miami. Sigrun is a directive therapist who offers feedback, coping skills and assists with various options for moving towards a higher quality of life. She is also a certified sex therapist who values a biological alignment to mental health and welcomes collaboration with other medical providers. She is the only sex therapist in Canada who has been trained in the administration of hormones for sexual concerns, health and menopause.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect RBC’s opinion or position.