Disclaimer: I am a Mental Health advocate, not to be confused with a Mental Health professional. While I have a B.A. in Psychology, I know enough to know that this blog is not mental health treatment. If you need help, do seek it from a professional. I hope this blog acts as a guide for those living in Shanghai who don’t know where to start.
There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice and it fosters humor. – George Santayana ‘The Philosophy of Travel’
Wisdom-seeking or not, we all get tired of dealing with the unfamiliar. In part 1 I covered how to embark on an adventure in China, responsibly. I already knew that Part 2 was going to have a mental health theme and then with the recent news of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain I knew it was important to get going with my writing.
If you’ve moved abroad you’re probably familiar with the highs and lows of culture shock. Here is a high level summary from our friends at the University of Florida. If you’ve been abroad for sometime like me, I’m sure it’s a relief to see that what you’ve been going through isn’t only common, there’s evidence to believe it happens to the best of us.
While keeping mentally resilient isn’t a perfect science, here are a few of the things that have helped me cope with my new life in Shanghai:
Find your tribe
Shanghai has so many options for expats looking to be a part of a community. If sports teams are your thing, the list is endless but here are a couple of note:
- Shanghai Softball League - Games are usually on weekends with both official and unofficial meet-ups sprinkled in outside of game time.
- Shanghai Hockey Club - Games are nearly every weeknight, pick-up or league games. Watch out for the weekly round-up, a weekly update on how teams did and an opportunity to roast players who stood out, or didn’t!
- Dust off your dancing shoes - There are so many dance studios in Shanghai. Try Z&B for Zumba or if you’re more of a laid back/introspective mover and shaker check out Souldancing or ZY dance.
- M2 Adventures has a couple excursions just about every weekend where 20 or 30 expats pile into a bus to inevitably make a couple friends and get some fresh air while seeing some Chinese wilderness. They even have a group called M2 Shanghai Newbie. Add Mariane to get a spot, WeChat ID: M2adventure
- Rock Climber? Gluten Free? Vegan? Quebecer? British? Poet? Whatever your interests, there are surely a couple WeChat groups to suit you. Some are super organized and have a meet-up every 3rd Tuesday of the month and others are casual and just meet whenever folks say they’re up for it. The best way to get added to these groups is to meet someone who is a member. That’s easier said than done, so if all else fails just post on this Facebook page the type of groups you’re looking for and more than 30K of your new closest friends will chime in to help.
Consider making some new Chinese friends or at least Mandarin-Learner colleagues at the next workshop or Language Mixer. Mandarin hosts a casual mixer each month where Chinese or English speaking folks are welcome to come by and have a drink. It's FREE if you post something about Mandarin INN on your social media or WeChat moments (be sure to tag the school so they see). RSVP here. OR if you'd like to learn something new, there's also a workshop once each month (upgrade your tea-snobbery or learn to make a traditional Chinese ceramic tile for your wall etc.) Here's the next event coming up:
Sweat it out
It’s not surprise that most of my points above have a fitness theme. Mental resilience is much easier to attain if our physical bodies are doing well. If the fitness options above don’t suit your lifestyle, join a gym or consider a pass that lets you join a few. My favourite gym option in Shanghai is Guavapass. There’s an option for every price point and you can return to your favourite gym classes a couple times a month without penalty. This way when you’re super busy, you can just drop by your neighbourhood spot for a yoga, cross-training or even a body pump class. However when you’re feeling adventurous you can skip across town to a studio like Pilates ProWorks (they are a San Fransisco based pilates studio just starting up in Shanghai see my friend Emily Z for a sure sweat-sesh, she’s a two-time Canadian olympian in Soccer). If gym classes and gym passes are all too complicated for you, at least make sure you’re getting some solid walking in and consider checking out the gyms in your neighbourhood. On high pollution days, its great to have the option to workout inside. Pro-tip, you don’t need a gym membership to work out. Most gyms offer a couple free trial passes to entice you to make the investment. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Vent to a really good listener
Sure you’re in a new country and the whole point of being here is to immerse yourself in this new culture, but everyone needs a break sometimes. Put the Mandarin INN app down and call home, meet with an expat friend for lunch or get in touch with LifeLineShanghai (WeChat ID). They’re a free service for expats in Shanghai who need to talk. Their recent blog is an excellent resource for anyone struggling with mental health, Powerless to Powerful: Preventing Suicide
If you’re looking for a long term relationship with a counsellor and are ready to invest the time and money with one, Shanghai International Mental Health Association is where I would turn next. They have a directory of all the counsellors in Shanghai that cater to expats. From what I can tell, most counsellors cost from 800-1200 rmb/hour. Or, if you had a therapist back home, consider asking them if they would Skype with you. It might be difficult to find a time that works for both of you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Cut back on the booze
Hard to imagine having time for drinking with all your new mental resiliency activities? Shanghai has so much opportunity for boozing but if you’re not feeling your best, mentally or physically, go booze-free and see if that helps. Easier said than done in such a nightlife-oriented city, right? Make it a group activity. Challenge your tribe to go booze free for a designated number of days or weeks and I’m sure both you and your bank account will come out happier.
Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a culture shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don't use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect in my opinion. That's had a big impact on my work. - Steve Jobs
I’ll close with one of my favourite quotes about culture shock from Steve Jobs himself. It’s a reminder to me that it’s normal to have a difficult time on your first return trip home, just like you did when you hit your first low-point in China. Also, remember our chart up top? A crisis doesn’t have to be a physical crisis for it to trigger an emotional one. Sometimes it can be as simple as a cab driver misunderstanding you and taking you to the wrong entrance of a building. Whatever the trigger of your next culture shock/fatigue break down, breathe through it, call a friend and move on from it. I have found that if I look for them, I can find a culture shock/fatigue crisis trigger almost daily. However, when I’m getting all the friend time in, exercising regularly and journalling as much as my psyche desires, I’m much more mentally resilient and able to cope with whatever comes my way.
*Note: If you have a loved one in China, get WeChat. You really have no idea how much it will mean to your loved one.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I'll provide a guide to using WeChat for folks back home.
Love and cheese,
About the blogger: Candice is a cheese-lover, a yogi and has a deep interest in languages. She’s from Ottawa, the capital of Canada and her favorite past job was as a manager at a bilingual summer camp in Canada. She already speaks English, French and is enrolled in group classes at Mandarin INN. When asked why she chose to come to China, her answer is a bit unlike others. China chose her, things all fell in place pretty quick and she flew over to this huge beast of a beautiful country without hesitation. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Concordia University in Montreal and considers herself a Mental Health advocate. She’s terrible at sports, but a pretty good dancer.