COVID-19 – How to survive the pandemic living abroad?

It is difficult to comprehend when major changes make you lose your ground, let alone when it comes to health. I speak from my own experience when I say that to get through it requires a lot from you.

Years ago, just after a few months living in Beijing, bird flu broke out in China. At the same time, I was confronted with breast cancer. As a wife, and especially the mother of two young children aged 9 and 11, life stood still for a moment. I flew from Beijing to Hong Kong for the 8-month treatment. At least I didn’t have to worry about the “social distancing”. With the family in Europe, and friends yet ‘in making’ it came naturally caused by relocation.

In addition to caution (masks were the order of the day at the time) and many adjustments, the most important thing was to focus on staying positive. The simple statement of my fantastic oncologist has become my priority and life motto: “Let go of what you have no influence on and stay positive”. He was convinced that this is a huge boost for your immune system that doctors have no influence on, and makes a big difference when it comes to general health or during the healing process.

Although the Netherlands is widely known for its level-headedness, many people lose overview and hope, lose control, become worried, afraid, stressed or even desperate. How can we keep the negative spiral of emotions away and stay positive?

It’s hard to stay positive while the news has been dominated by the COVID-19 virus for weeks. The consequences have a major impact on ourselves, our actions, our social life, health, finances, social security, you name it. Everything is turned upside down. And even though the latest figures from RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health)  cautiously predict a flattening of the new infections and hospital admissions, we can only rely on them in a few weeks.

So what you can do to stay strong and positive?

Choose wisely the amount of information.

You don’t have to follow the news 24/7 to stay informed. After all, you didn’t do that before the COVID-19 virus came into the picture. Even now, you can limit the intake of information to twice a day for example. Choose your sources carefully; there is a lot of fake news roaming the internet enclosing information that can be misleading and cause unnecessary stress.

Let go.

You can pull out all the stops to make sure you’re ahead of the virus. Very well, in case it works for you and you can maintain a good balance. If this only causes stress or panic and you are unable to distinguish the good from the bad, you better let go. Managing stress is one of the best medicines keeping your immune system healthy.

Spend more time with your loved ones.

Together we are stronger. Bake a cake or do crafts with your children. Call your relatives. Video chats are also a great way to keep in touch with your loved ones. So much is possible online nowadays. You can drink coffee, play games together etc.

Be helpful and attentive.

There are people who may be in even more difficult situations. You can help by, for example, doing their shopping, being a call buddy, walk their dog. You can send someone a card or surprise someone with a small gift, left at the doorstep. Show people you care about them. In this way you contribute to well-being of another and at the same time to your own. Because it feels good to mean something to someone else.

Shift your focus.

Enjoying and being thankful for what you have and what you can do is a cliché. It is not something we are used to doing but oh so important. It makes you happy, gives you hope and helps you relax. What might help is starting the day with a complement to yourself / or to your loved ones. Another suggestion is for the evening or before bedtime, to dwell on a day writing down the things you are grateful for. The following start sentences might be helpful:

  • I am grateful for:
  • I enjoyed:
  • Something special / pleasant that I saw / tasted / heard or experienced today is:

Invest in your own development,  get creative with extra time.

Start yoga classes, meditations. Or pick up an old hobby, learn something new, read a book or do something you normally wouldn’t get around to doing. Learn to relax. Now you can.

Have a laugh.

 Watch a comedy, make each other laugh, do a laugh yoga or start laughing spontaneously. Just like that. The physical action, although it may seem ridiculous to some, causes a kind of chain reaction. Once started, you don’t know when to stop. And that’s what matters. Nothing is so infectious as a smile. In addition, when we laugh, our body produces the happiness hormone endorphins – a natural “feel-good drug”.

Trust yourself.

You have been in an impossible situation before. Illness, financial problems, loss of loved ones, divorce, lack of work etc. … all are the examples. How was that for you? What did you do then and what helped you then to overcome the struggle? You have more resilience that you think. This COVID-19 virus will soon be over. You will also get through this. Trust your own strength and remind yourself about your redeeming qualities regularly.

Breathe deeply and slowly.

Qi gong is one of the breathing methods to lower your stress levels by breathing calmly and low into your belly. This breath stimulates the para-sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for your moments of relaxation. A proven method to find peace.

Enjoy nature.

Nature has a healing effect on us. On a balcony, terrace, a walk around the house or in the garden. You don’t have to look far to notice a beauty of nature. We are often blessed with breath taking sights. On the dark days, the sky creates beautiful patterns. Otherwise it is the spring, the bees and the birds are busy, even in a flower pot on a balcony. Take a close look at them.

Build up your local network and/or ask for help.

A friend in need is a friend indeed. There are different World wide organisations where you will be able to find buddies locally. You can join some groups of interests or create your own one if you like: Inter Nations, Meet up are examples to name two. Then there are fellow support groups on Facebook as Expats in the Netherlands, and in most biggest cities there are International organisations supporting foreigners and/or Expats such as Expat Centres, International Women Clubs etc. In the end you can ask for help calling your local Township where they will be able to provide you with a volunteer or a (telephone call buddy). Just don’t stay alone if that upsets you.

Finally a kind request. Do you have any other ideas for staying positive? Sharing is caring. Then please leave a comment!
Do you recognize yourself in a similar situation? Do you want to change it? Do you need support? Contact me via

Together we are strong, together we can handle it!

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