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The psychology behind emigration

The psychology behind emigration

August 18, 2022

Emigrating has become an increasingly common action due to the ease that there is currently to travel and the fact that communication channels are more advanced every day, facilitating information. However, emigration is not a decision that should be taken lightly for several compelling reasons.

Unfortunately, there are misconceptions about emigration that have encouraged the normalization of this action. Little echo has been made about the emotional and psychological risks that can cause a bad or sudden emigration decision.

But how can migrating affect us psychologically and emotionally if we are in search of a better life?

  • Related article: "3 important aspects to adapt to a new country"

The psychological impact of emigrating

Simply because of the false expectations that the normalization of emigration cause , the lack of information can affect us to the point of triggering depression, anxiety and adaptation problems, where the stress of the simple fact of emigrating is the protagonist. The purpose of this article is to create awareness about the psychological risks of emigrating because we want to or not.

Our mind, no matter how strong, is going to run into turbid waters before a change as great as it is to emigrate to another country. Of course there are different types of emigration and not all go through the same circumstances, but depression, anxiety and other stressors can affect us more than we think if they catch us off guard.

What can be the psychological risks?

When migrating, many changes in the life of any person are involved , whether it is going to study for a few months or be determined to seek better opportunities abroad for an indefinite time. Unfortunately, emigrating is not synonymous with better quality of life as many believe, since you have to go through periods of adaptation before you can recover part of the lifestyle you had, and not just the money as many believe. Emigrate it also involves other types of losses , and as any loss sooner or later a grieving process develops.

The life of every individual is made up of multiple areas that make up their full development and therefore it is very likely that they will be affected when they emigrate: (Ziglar, 7 areas of life):

  • Career and work
  • Social: friends and environment
  • Family: support and healthy interpersonal relationships (as in the previous one)
  • Economic: independence and stability
  • Physical Health
  • Mental health
  • Spirituality

Grief and emigration stress

As it was previously mentioned, when you emigrate you will suffer grief due to the change. All change generates stress, and all this can affect our emotional world , thus triggering possible psychopathologies (Lavieri, 2015).

Cultural change, nostalgia, loneliness , the lack of social identification, anxiety and acute stress can also affect the immune system. Many immigrants do not seem to suffer any type of alteration or anxiety during the first months of moving, either because they only went to study for a short period of time, the excitement of being in a new environment or because they have family and friends in the new country that help them adapt a little faster.

However, eventually social and cultural factors will affect the cognitive maps creating the famous cultural clashes, differences in the way of working and even studying.

For example, educational systems vary from country to country , just as work styles can also vary (eg new technologies).

Considerations when emigrating

To avoid as far as possible the possible adverse psychological effects of emigration, it may be useful to follow these guidelines:

  • Draw a map of objectives and goals in the short, medium and long term.
  • Managing false expectations of immediate successes (eg The American Dream).
  • Avoid migrating suddenly if you have a psychological disorder or if you suspect one. If the person suffers from depressive episodes, migrating without precautions can be very risky for their mental health.
  • Understand that self-esteem and identity can be very affected. The lifestyle will suffer changes.
  • Investigate the culture, social situation, climate and language of the country to which you want to emigrate. Be prepared to suffer any kind of discrimination and rejection. Like it or not, it is a reality to which any immigrant is exposed, regardless of social class, race, age or sex.
  • Prepare papers, preferably avoid leaving undocumented . Going under illegalities will increase the stress and risk of having legal problems, such as being deported, not being able to open bank accounts or simply not being able to be treated in hospitals.(Opening the way to fall in jobs where there is abuse and labor exploitation).
  • Understand that this step will affect career and work identity . It is unlikely to get work in your area immediately, unless you are going with a job offer and yet there are risks to consider: importance of the position, contract, trial period, training and time granted by the company to accommodate.
  • Understand that there are going to be emotional and labor ups and downs. This also applies to those who emigrate with children.
  • Take advantage of support networks. Do you have close acquaintances in the country?
  • Understand that you should ask for professional help and family support if you suspect any symptoms of depression or anxiety that make you want to isolate, lose your way and affect performance in school or work.

And the relatives of those who leave?

For families of emigrants, it may be useful for the person who follows these guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid at all costs comparative comments with the immediate successes of acquaintances who emigrated.
  • Offer support and remind them of the advantages of the decision , encourage them to reach the proposed goal. And always remind them where their home is if they decide to return.
  • Avoid judging if you decide to return. Family support is essential in the face of these radical and risky changes to mental health.


Emigrating is not a simple decision, and like any decision requires a lot of maturity so that the change is as bearable as possible. It is necessary to understand the risks of emigration and the false expectations generated by seeing it as something popular to go to another country.

If the necessary measures and precautions are taken, emigrating can be less risky and even take us where we want to go with the best tools, making the most of new experiences.

Bibliographic references:

  • Lavieri, E. (2015). Psychiatric disorders more frequent in the immigrant: Anxiety, Mood Disorders and Addictions. Available at //
  • Ziglar, T. (2016). The Wheel of Life. Available at //

What If You Were An Immigrant? | Ben Huh | TEDxPortland (August 2022).

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