You know the story. “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…”
That cute little locomotive tried her darnedest to climb steadily up that great, big hill despite her tiny size. Despite how others couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help a sister out. She just wanted to get those fun little toys to those precious little kids in the valley over the mountain. She wanted to do big things and in the end, she succeeded!
It is an inspiring tale of determination and perseverance. Oftentimes, the expat life we lead can leave us feeling like we are constantly chugging, chugging, chugging up a really high mountain like the one in the story. But the difference, there is oftentimes no rest or mountain peak in sight. We think the end is just a little bit further up. We don’t know if we can actually make it there and we are in great need of a break. (Don’t believe me? Laura Pinkston wrote How Stressed are You?. That may convince you otherwise.)
The overseas life can be devoid of a strong support system; family, neighborhood friends, childhood buddies you would trust your very life (and children) with. If you are sick and need comfort, your best friend may be a Skype-call away. Their hugs and homemade dinner you can’t enjoy over the Internet. If you have kids, there is no dropping them off at Grandma’s or to a Mother’s Day Out program. Without this kind of system, we may find ourselves constantly trying to “press on” and accomplish everything on our own.
With our job, my husband and I are allowed a personal day every quarter. Once every three months, he gets a whole day to himself. It isn’t a vacation day or a sick day. It doesn’t have to be on a holiday. I try not to bug him too much that day with texts and such. It is his day off, even from me.
But my day…the angels sing a chorus. It is just that delightful. I usually sleep in, get extra time in prayer, eat out at some of my favorite restaurants, and I often get some kind of errand or self-care service done; a hair cut or pedicure. The best part? My husband is responsible for the kids and I get to have one day to myself, to do whatever is refreshing to me in the season I am in. Sometimes it means being around lots of people in the mall because it is just awesome to shop without toddlers. Sometimes it means lots of time just being alone with my thoughts. When I lived in a two-light country town in southern Thailand with no big city conveniences, I would drive an hour to the big city. I would find a waiting Starbucks, the roaring of a beautiful, tropical ocean, and the biggest luxury – foreign food. I was temporarily relieved from little ones tugging on my pant legs asking for my attention or a bite of my burger.
Is this only for expats with kids? No. I have plenty of single and married friends without children who often feel like they can’t set aside even just one day. Whether a personal day is inaccessible in regards to work, or just their national friends. Even if they don’t have a day like this set aside in their work contract, these friends need permission to take a vacation day (or a sick day…I won’t tell) and unplug. To check into a retreat center, take a “stay-cation” and recharge themselves instead of just pouring into the people who live around them.
Self-care can sometimes seem like a dirty word….or an unnecessary, selfish luxury that you cannot afford or should even dare to desire. Instead, see it as a way to fill your tank for the long-haul of living overseas.
How in the world are you going to get it done? Plan ahead and appeal to your supervisors. Or, when there is that obscure local holiday, consider that your day to finally set aside some time for you, not just for your pile of dirty laundry or for the endless list of errands that begs to steal your recharge time.
Some tips to consider as you plan your personal day:
- Get some extra sleep. But not too much. You don’t want to waste half of your day off in bed! Set an alarm if you fear you will channel your inner teenager and wake up at 2pm.
- Set a splurge budget. Where I live in Thailand, a fancy foreign meal ranges from five dollars to thirty and a massage or pedicure goes for five to ten bucks. Our family’s budget allows for a little wiggle room for refreshment. Yours should, too.
- Leave space for quiet. Oftentimes, our stress as expats deals with the constant noise of the unfamiliarity of our host culture. Pop in those earbuds with some soothing tunes, or some noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds. Or, simply shut the door of your bedroom and curl up with that book you’ve been letting collect dust on the shelf.
- Unplug: #3 leads me to this point. Your email inbox and those Facebook notifications can wait. But, your sanity can’t. Turn off the WiFi and enjoy a mental break.
Why am I trying to make a case for you to seek out a day like this? I believe that these personal days have the potential to literally save you. Save you from the tighten-up-your-bootstraps, suck-it-up, lay-your-life down kind of mentality that can sometimes overwhelm our brains, bodies and emotions with false hope that we are, in fact, super-humans.
So, what is your self-care regiment? Do you take personal days? How does it look in your context? How do you avoid burn-out?