Monthly Archives: December 2022

Expat Grief Seasonal Depression psychologist Cologne

Expat Grief – 5 Tips for the Winter

Expat Grief Seasonal Depression psychologist Cologne

Hi, I am Paulina and I have ridden a rollercoaster ever since this adventure of living life abroad. As a psychologist and expat, I have had the opportunity to dig deeper into the expat experience to better understand it and learned how to apply everything I knew about human beings and their mental health to expat grief while living life in another country. One of the best ways to cope with expat grief is to share personal experiences of living life away from back home.

2018 December
Cologne, Germany 

It was 2 pm and I was tired as if it were 11 pm. I didn’t know exactly why I was so tired and demotivated. Without thinking any further – I didn’t have the energy to enter the rabbit hole – I decided to take a nap on the couch.

The next thing I know, I open my eyes and it was dark, with horror I jumped off the couch and went to check how late it was. ‘I must have slept for hours! How unproductive!’ I thought. But it was only 4:30 pm. Sure, I had slept two hours more than I wanted, but I couldn’t believe how dark and sad the weather was. Everything was so still, but it was so early in the afternoon. ‘So this is winter… what a blast.’

This is how I spent my first winter. Suddenly everything I had learned and heard about stationary depression made sense! And later I realized that, on top of it all, I was going through expat grief.

2022 December
Cologne, Germany

I can’t wait for the season to start! Looking forward to the Christmas Markets and the cosy evenings that can only take place, at least without guilt, during the winter.  Learned to appreciate the magic that comes with each season, and the different activities and traditions that colour every month here.

Sure, I miss my friends and family members, but I have built a support network here. I found the beauty in every new relationship I have made and left many prejudices aside. It is not perfect, but I found my peace.

In this article, I explore some of the main challenges that arise during the experience of living abroad, more specifically dealing with the winter. Also, I will talk about some advice that can help you go through it in a mindful and wholesome manner.

Dealing with expat grief – why is the winter so hard?

The obvious answer is related to the weather and how it affects us. We can also consider the impact of the winter holidays, which we usually relate to friends and family. If we can’t be close to them, this might trigger sadness. Also, in general, the Christmas holidays can trigger stress for some people.

But there is also a more complex answer! During winter, we are somehow invited to be more introspective. It signals the end of a year and still accompanies us during the first months of the next. Somehow, we are confronted with many questions about our life decisions and future.

Where am I going? Am I on the right track? How did I spend this year? Am I satisfied? What’s next? 

When we are expats it forces sometimes even deeper questions, such as:

 Am I in the right place? Would I be better if I were closer to my family? Is this worth it? What is here for me?

The winter is a mellow season. Besides the rush of the holidays, winter’s energy tends to be calmer. There are fewer plans, the light is scarce and our energy might feel lower than usual. On top, we might even be low on vitamins that are important for our mood and energy levels (check with a medical provider, you can find some that speak in English here on Project Expat.

So what is in your power to live a more mindful and wholesome winter as an expat? Here are 5 tips:

Normalize your feelings! And take control over your actions.

There is nothing more draining when dealing with expat grief or phases of depression than fighting or trying to justify our emotions. Feeling sad or demotivated can be natural. Check in with yourself and see what your mind has been telling you: are your thoughts of a different nature lately? Are you believing every thought that comes to your mind? Do I have to re-evaluate my life choices?

Try to take some perspective by mentioning each thought and validating the feeling associated next.

Expat Grief 5 Tips for the Winter Immigrant Experience Expat Life Christmas Holidays Winter Blues Positive Reinforcement

For example:

There is a part of me that is thinking that winter in Germany is too grey and sad. Therefore, I feel like I’m hopeless.

Then check if there is an alternative thought that is not so absolute.

There is a part of me that doesn’t like some things about the winter in Germany, and I accept it and decide to be nice to this side of myself.

Finally, look for something under your control and commit to acting accordingly.

Even though there is a part of me that doesn’t like some things about winter, I decide to focus my energy on (insert here a new hobby, activity you enjoy or something you do like about the winter season). You need to focus on a different aspect of life.

Expat Grief 5 Tips for the Winter Immigrant Experience Expat Life Christmas Holidays Winter Blues Positive Reinforcement

Decide not to fight reality.


That first winter I spent here, I repeated several times how much I missed the sun (I am Mexican BTW) and how much I hated the cold weather. No matter how many times I said it and fought the fact that it is like this, it never changed.

So, why spend so much energy and thoughts on something that goes way beyond my power?

I decided to take my own advice. Yes. It is cold, wet, and dark. But once we stop talking about it and dreading it so much, it stops being that important.

Develop new routines and traditions.

Going to every Christmas market in my area and establishing regular cosy dates with my husband and friends is an activity that is specific to winter, and I enjoy it a lot!

More movie nights, coffee in bed in the mornings, taking out my winter clothes, indoor activities (that I rarely do during summer) and taking mindful walks (noticing colours, nature changes and weather differences)  the latter one during each season – have become a new routine for me. Find those who enjoy the same activities.

Learning about Germany’s traditions can also be a great manner to be more mindful and wholesome because we activate our curiosity modus and therefore, we become more open. It also helps us integrate our past and our present.

In the same manner, sharing our traditions with our new friends gives us the chance to feel more ourselves and integrate with the new culture.

Expat Grief 5 Tips for the Winter Immigrant Experience Expat Life Christmas Holidays Winter Blues Positive Reinforcement
Expat Grief 5 Tips for the Winter Immigrant Experience Expat Life Christmas Holidays Winter Blues Positive Reinforcement

Cultivate gratitude and self-compassion. 

When we suffer, we enter an alert or defensive mode, which usually leads to anger. This is because we focus only on what is hurting us or what we consider a potential threat. Whether you are here because of studies, work, or love, try to connect with gratitude.

What are you thankful for? What have you learned so far? How can you compliment yourself? Are there people who have supported you in this process? Can you be thankful for a new connection you made?

Self-compassion can also play a huge role here. Rather than being hard on yourself for experiencing expat grief or assuming a victim position, try to embrace your experience and honour your process! You have to constantly remind yourself to be positive.

Recognize the value of your effort, and your courage and treat your pain kindly. You are not alone; it is hard sometimes for all of us. A lot of expats feel like this.

Embrace the holidays! (If they are important to you)

If your family traditions and holidays are celebrated during December/January, these days might be extra tough on you. I feel you. Finding ways to connect to your family can be one of the most important aspects of when dealing with expat grief, for example sending something home and or having some quality FaceTime. Also, it is okay to express how you feel and seek comfort.

Many times, we avoid these vulnerable moments because we are scared of either being a burden or not being able to recover from them. So we live in silence. We might also feel that admitting we miss them might sound like a failure or a sign of unhappiness.

What we imagine they will think and feel, or we might open, is way bigger than it is! Try it! Allow yourself to open up and revive the love of the ones you love.

Ask your friends and family in Germany to celebrate with you. If they have similar traditions join them with gratitude and try to make that special dish or special thing that your family/country does back home!


Expat Grief 5 Tips for the Winter Immigrant Experience Expat Life Christmas Holidays Winter Blues Positive Reinforcement

Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning, the end of a year usually comes with some reflective questions. You need to phrase your questions differently. Positively phrasing these questions can be a game changer.

Ask yourself:

What could be better? Where do I want to improve? Where do I want to be in 6 months? Is there anything I can do to make my experience more positive? What have I learned? Have I accomplished anything?

There is no small accomplishment and no small goal! You want to give yourself time, patience, and kindness. Every small win counts.

If you run into any troubles to practice one of these tips or you may feel like you could use some guidance, contact me for a free call! I know first hand the experience of moving to another country, not having family members around and dealing with life away from everything you know. I provide advice, coaching and psychology services in Cologne and online.

Happy winter!

psychologist in Cologne

Are you looking for an English-speaking Psychologist in Cologne? Team up with Paulina to work on your well-being! As an expat herself, Paulina understands the unique difficulties that come with being uprooted from your familiar surroundings and starting anew in a foreign place. Whether you are struggling with language barriers, homesickness, or simply adjusting to life abroad, she is here to help.

living in Zurich city guide things to do

Living in Zealous Zurich – A City Guide

Welcome, let’s find out what is its like living in zealous Zurich!  Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, located in the heart of the country. It is a vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage, stunning architecture, and outdoor activities to suit all tastes. Whether you are looking to explore its historic sights, go shopping, or simply enjoy its beautiful scenery, Zurich has something for everyone. From its bustling city centre to its charming old town, Zurich is sure to captivate and delight you. Whether you’re visiting or living in Zurich, with our city guide, you will get the run down of the best insider tips to make the most of your time here. Let’s get exploring!

living in Zurich city guide things to do

Must-Sees in Zurich


Zurich is a stunningly beautiful city filled with a wealth of attractions and activities for visitors to explore. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day out or an action-packed adventure, Zurich has something for everyone.


A must-see in Zurich is the Old Town, a charmingly preserved historical quarter filled with cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and plenty of boutiques and restaurants. Another must-see is the Grossmünster, a breath-taking Romanesque-style church with a distinctive twin tower façade. Other highlights include the Fraumünster, a church with beautiful stained glass windows, and the Kunsthaus Zurich, a renowned art museum.

The Schanzengraben, connecting the train station with Lake Zurich, offers an opportunity for a relaxing stroll along the canal and its many boats, often called “the venice of Zurich”. Don’t forget to take a boat ride on Lake Zurich, the largest body of water in the city, and explore the Uetliberg, a hill with spectacular views of Zurich and the surrounding mountains.

Getting around in Zurich

Zurich is an incredibly walkable city, with plenty of pedestrian-only areas and well-marked bike lanes to make getting around easy. The city’s public transit system is also excellent, with a wide network of trams, buses and trains that can take you almost anywhere in the city. If you’d rather get around on two wheels, there are several bike-sharing options available, as well as plenty of rental shops. Taxis are also available if you’d like to get to your destination quickly. No matter what your preferred mode of transport, Zurich has something to offer! Find our more about the Zurich City Pass.

zurich food

Local Food in Zurich

Zurich is a city that is known for its rich culture, stunning architecture, and vibrant nightlife. But one thing that is often overlooked is its local cuisine. Zurich is home to a variety of unique dishes that reflect the city’s diverse immigrant population.

If you’re looking to try the most popular local food, go for the Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, a veal dish with a creamy sauce and Rösti. Another local specialty that many people don’t realize has its origin in Zurich is Birchermüsli. The breakfast classic was originally invented by Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a doctor from Zurich, and has since made its way around the world in many variations. For those with a sweet tooth, the Luxembourgerlis – similar to macarons – are an indulgent treat that are sure to satisfy anyone’s cravings.

Zurich and the surrounding area is a great wine region known for Pinot Noir and Riesling-Silvaner and also for Räuschling – a local white wine which can’t be found anywhere else, making it the ideal souvenir! Be sure to visit one of the many local restaurants on your next visit to Zurich to experience the local flavours. You won’t be disappointed!

Cost of Living in Zurich

Zurich is a beautiful city, with a high quality of life. Although living in Zurich can be expensive, it is still a desirable destination for many people. The cost of living in Zurich is higher than many other cities in Switzerland, with rent being particularly expensive. However, the salaries tend to be higher as well, and there are numerous ways to save money. If you are looking for a good quality of life, Zurich is a great choice. Additionally, the city offers plenty of activities and attractions, making it an ideal location for tourists and expats alike.

Cost of Living in Zurich
Living in Zurich

Living in Zurich

From its beautiful lakeside setting to its vibrant nightlife, there is something for everyone living in Zurich. The city is known for its high quality of life and is rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world. With a growing economy and a diverse cultural scene, Zurich is an ideal destination for people of all ages. The city offers a variety of activities, from outdoor sports to cultural attractions, and is home to many international companies. With its excellent transportation network, it’s easy to get around Zurich and explore all the city has to offer.

Whether you live in Zurich or are just dropping in to visit, it is an amazing city. From its iconic landmarks to its vibrant cultural life, there is something for everyone in Zurich. So enjoy your time here in the heart of beautiful Switzerland!

Interested in moving to Switzerland? Find out more about what life is like in Geneva for Expats.