The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the expatriate life in the region into larger focus because of the uncertainty around jobs. Expatriates head home or to other countries for various reasons including redundancy, retirement or other life changes such as emigration. For most expats who have been here for years, UAE is home even though their passport says otherwise. […]
The emotional, mental effects of change – Fight or flight response
“When dealing with a change in environment the brain will need to adjust to the change, which could encompass several sub-changes, e.g. location, climate, food, social environment, etc. Since the brain is always making sure that we survive, the brain will start by making hypotheses, or expectations i.e. predictions, about the receiving environment.
These predictions and the current state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity with the new environment will lead to stress, which can be only experienced physically (e.g. nervousness) but also cognitively (e.g. insecurity, doubts) or as a complex emotional reaction (e.g. anxiety, panic). Once in the new environment, the brain will create a fight-flight, or approach-avoid response in order to explore the context and assess and evaluate the expectations. If the expectations about the environment are met, adjustment will take place and the person will deal with the new situation as events happen.
However, if expectations are not met, usually because they were too high, then the brain may respond with sadness and depressive feelings (as a grief response over the old environment), or feelings of frustration and anger, which are all emotions that should stimulate the person to get to terms with the new environment and process the ‘lost’ environment.
In case of extreme changes, shock may ensue, a state in which the brain shuts down in order to take the time and energy to process the loss of the old and the conditions of the new environment. People may feel disoriented, nostalgic, rage and frustration/anger or guilt, and depressive feelings. Clinically, these emotions are functional as they should motivate the person to explore and adapt to the new environment. However, if these emotions last too long (e.g. longer than 2 months, and/or mood swings and negative thoughts do not recede, serious psychological disorders may develop.
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