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.

Donath Relocation Services 5 step plan

5 Step Relocation Plan: Moving to Germany

If you’re moving to Germany, we are aware of how extensive the whole relocation process can be. Don’t worry! Our partners from DONATH Moving & Relocation count on specialists that will assist you by providing their best moving and relocation services. Overall, they will support you and ensure that the entire move goes smoothly while you can focus fully on your job and your new workplace.

Step 1: Finding a good moving company

As an expat, it might be difficult to decide which moving company is the most appropriate for you. Therefore, it is important that you don’t only compare prices, but you also make sure that it offers all the high-quality services that you will need during the move. DONATH Moving & Relocation created a super useful checklist for expats to help you find the best moving company. Download it here to find out the 5 steps that you should follow in your search!

Step 2: Being well prepared

The DONATH relocation experts can assist with a wide range of time-consuming tasks when moving to a new residence:

  • home search
  • rental agreement
  • school and kindergarten search (if applicable)
  • preparation of visa application
  • formalities and administrative paperwork
  • integration of the family
  • all questions relating to pets, etc.

This allows you to focus on your new professional challenge while the experts take care of everything else.

Step 3: Packing your household goods 

We recommend to only use a professional moving company for your move to Germany. They have the knowhow how to pack and load an overseas container and give you advice on how to ensure your household goods.

Pack up your personal belongings and set them aside. Valuables, keys, documents and passports should be packed in a separate bag that you keep with you at all times. This way, you won’t have to spend hours looking for the things that you desperately need for the first night in your new home.

Step 4: Moving day

Don’t forget taking a day off work on your moving day. To ensure a smooth transition to Germany for the whole family, why not arrange for some trusted relatives or friends to look after your children during moving day?

Don’t forget to pack all of your most precious possessions and make sure you include plenty of snacks and refreshments – keeping everyone’s spirits up! The moving crew would also be happy to have a cup of coffee or a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.

donath moving and relocation logo

Step 5: Arriving in Germany 

Congratulations, you’ve made it to your new residence!

Moving to a new home can be an exciting and empowering experience. However, it’s important not to forget one key step: reaching out to various organizations such as banks, registration offices and insurance companies so they are aware of your updated address!

Any questions left? Do not hesitate to get in touch with our partners at DONATH Moving & Relocation. You will not regret it!

Brigitte Goletz Life Coach

Finding the Right Coach

Finding the right coach as expat is not easy. Often we are in situations in which we do not feel well and would like to change something. But we don’t know how and what we can really change. Is it the job, the boss, the life situation, the friend or other external circumstances?

This is the point where a Life Coach could step in. In this article our partner Brigitte Goletz, Personal and Business Coach, will give you useful information about what coaching is and how to find the right coach for you.

Finding the Right Coach

Finding a good coach is not that easy: there are many coaches on the market and the quality of the coach is not immediately recognizable because there is no uniform education. Apart from the professional education of the coach, it must also fit personally.

A good relationship with the coach is one of the most important things in coaching, so every client should take the time to make a phone call to see if the coach fits him or her personally. Professional quality characteristics can be training at a recognized institute, references to already (successfully) conducted coaching’s, membership in an association as well as certification.

Usually, coaches offer free initial phone sessions. Sessions are often 60-90 minutes long, depending on the arrangement. In a coaching session, a coach guides the client in formulating goals for the concern and in achieving the goal, using tools that are helpful in achieving the goal. Often 5-6 appointments are enough for this.

When Can Coaching Be Useful?

Occasions for personal coaching can be:

  • You are stuck in your structures and can’t move forward.
  • You feel that your life is difficult and you wish for more lightness.
  • You want to give your life a different direction, but you don’t know the way.
  • Your midlife does not have to mean a midlife crisis: Where do you want to go and what do you still want to achieve?
  • How do I deal with life interruptions? For example, with a separation, illness or losses?

Occasions for business coaching can be:

  • Self-awareness: Where are your strengths? How can you best contribute to your job?
  • Compatibility: How do you achieve a balance between professional demands and private wishes and goals?
  • You feel like a victim of mobbing
  • You are dissatisfied in your job and need support in changing jobs
  • You would like to find a job that suits you better
  • New position: You would like to strengthen your leadership skills

Choose Yourself

We are all strongly influenced by our childhood caregivers and our culture. This influence has left us with fixed patterns of behaviour and used to give us orientation and the necessary affection from our parents.

Today, they can sometimes be a hindrance and lead to undesirable thinking, feeling and behaviour. And then we do not feel comfortable in some situations.

Life coaching is a way to personal freedom and development. In a coaching session you can gain new perspectives, recognize and understand patterns and attitudes, formulate goals and start on the path to achieving them. What is still standing in your way? Start now!

Do You Have Any Further Questions?

“My first contact with coaching was when I was a coaching client myself. My wish was to free myself from old restrictive patterns. The experience of feeling freer and stronger afterwards fascinated me so much that I became intensively involved with the subject of coaching and then did the training to become a personal and business coach.” – Brigitte Goletz.

Get in Touch

On Project Expat: 


Phone: 0221-98656707
Düsseldorf City Guide

Living in Düsseldorf, the Art Metropolis

With about 620.000 people living in Düsseldorf, it is sort of the antithesis of Cologne. Even though it is much smaller than Cologne, it is the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, which annoys many Cologne residents a bit.

Düsseldorf ranks second in NRW and seventh in the whole of Germany. Still, these two Rhine metropolises are rivals. This is true for sports, culture and drinks. While Cologne is known for its Kölsch (a light beer), people in Düsseldorf drink Altbier (an old and dark beer). In addition, Düsseldorf is considered the city of the rich and beautiful, who enjoy life there.

Living in Düsseldorf

As in Cologne, several million tourists come to Düsseldorf every year because there is a lot to see here. In the old town of Düsseldorf, there are several pubs and restaurants. A tour of the old town with its narrow streets is a must. The longest bar in the world is located here! However, only theoretically: only if you were to line up the counters of all 250 pubs, it would really be the longest counter in the world.

Along the Rhine you can take a nice walk, especially in summer. If you walk long enough, you end up in the Media Harbour. Many important companies are located there, and less than 100 people really live in this part of town. Instead, you’ll find the Rhine Tower there. You can see it from far away when you drive into Düsseldorf. It looks a bit like the Colonius in Cologne, but it is as striking for the Düsseldorf cityscape as the cathedral is in Cologne.

The landmarks of the Media Harbour are the three buildings by Frank Gehry, with their curved facades. In addition, Düsseldorf is known for its art scene. Along with numerous museums, there are countless galleries and art stores that make this city an art metropolis.

Must Visits

Especially the , the Königsallee is the place to do shopping in the city centre, if you have the necessary change. A walk on the  is always worthwhile, because there is something for everyone to see. At the new Kö Bogen, architect Daniel Liebeskind has built an impressive building complex that combines gastronomy and retail.

In addition, Düsseldorf offers a home to about 7000 Japanese, as over 400 Japanese companies are located there. Their district is also called Little Nippon on the Rhine. There you will find not only traditional restaurants, (the Takumi is considered an insider tip) but also selected grocery stores for the Japanese cuisine.

In addition to the museums and galleries already mentioned, Düsseldorf has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing. For example, the Basilica St. Lambertus, the Basilica St. Margareta and the Berger Church. The Botanical Garden is also worth a visit, as well as the Art Academy, which makes its contribution to the fact that Düsseldorf is considered an art metropolis.

 Architectural structures worth seeing include the before mentioned Gehry buildings, the Dreischeibenhaus and the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus. But you can also just drift and visit one of the numerous small breweries for a beer tasting. The Rheinterassen are an absolute must for everyone, whether tourist or local. Düsseldorf simply has something to offer for everyone, like all major German cities.

Living in Düsseldorf is unfortunately expensive. The average rent in Düsseldorf is €12.69 per square meter, while the average rental price in all of Germany is around €7.68 per square meter. So the cost of living in Düsseldorf is significantly above average, but for many people still worth paying.

A trendy neighbourhood in Düsseldorf is Flingern. It is easy to recognize by the numerous graffiti that adorn the walls there. While the apartments there were once cheap, they are now modern and pricy. But there is the Cafe Hüftgold, which is said to serve the best cake in town. 

Oberkassel on the left bank of the Rhine is one of the most expensive but also most exclusive residential areas of the city. From the Rhine meadows you can enjoy a fantastic view of the old town.

Public Transportation

As far as transport links are concerned, Düsseldorf – like Cologne – is very well developed and connected. With 25 suburban train stations, 18 city and streetcar lines and around 50 bus lines, Düsseldorf can be easily experienced by public transport. The subway, for example, takes travellers from the main train station to the city centre in just three minutes. The S-Bahn takes them from the main station to the airport in just ten minutes.

The DUS (Düsseldorf Airport) is not only the largest in North Rhine-Westphalia, but also the fourth largest in Germany. It is connected to 230 destinations in 65 countries, thanks to 80 airlines. About 25 million people use it per year and it is ideal for people who travel a lot for business.


The Brasserie Hülsmann is considered one of the best restaurants in the city. Here, upscale brasserie cuisine is presented in a casual atmosphere. The aforementioned Takumi will probably also soon lose its status as an insider tip. The Bar Olio is a casual scene restaurant serving modern crossover cuisine. If you prefer Italian cuisine, Riva at the harbour is the place to go. In addition, there are also the numerous inns and pubs in the old town, which you stumble upon during a visit, and which invite you to linger and feast.

Of course, it is impossible to name and recommend all the great restaurants and bars in a city. It is always a subjective evaluation. Therefore, you should always get an impression yourself and maybe just try a restaurant that you like. You will find something for every taste in Düsseldorf.


So let’s summarize the most important facts about Düsseldorf again:

  • Düsseldorf is the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia.
  • Düsseldorf, like most big cities, is a bit more expensive, but it’s worth it if you want to live there.
  • The city is considered a metropolis for art.
  • The people are open-minded and make it easy for foreigners to get used to the typical charm of the city.
  • Little Nippon on the Rhine makes the city interesting for Asian immigrants.
  • Düsseldorf has a lot of green areas, which makes the city interesting for families.
  • The transport links allow fast travel both within Germany and internationally.

So if you are willing and can afford it financially, Düsseldorf is a good place to be.

And you can find English-speaking services in Düsseldorf here.