Strategies for staying engaged when you're having a rough day.
Let’s have a moment of honesty. The kind of honesty that makes us feel a little uncomfortable because at some level, we feel like we sound entitled or elitist or spoiled.
Honestly, there are moments, hours, or entire days when we've said, “I hate China.” This thought is usually predicated by an incident, or rather several incidents that culminate in us losing it. It’s a broad, absolute statement that we know is false, even as we say it, but we've said it. The exception here is, of course, cursing the internet speed, in which case, I firmly stand by my hatred.
Most of us don’t actually hate China or living here. But we've all reached our tipping points. This is called a "bad China day" in expat vernacular, meaning we've had more than enough frustration and are done with interacting with my host country. There isn’t one singular cause of this frustration. Not only is it different for everyone, but it’s different for the same person and largely dependent on the other interactions that have led up to this point.
When this happens, it’s easy to rage about all of the things that drive us mad and retreat into our expat zone of comfort. That is one coping strategy and often the first that comes to mind. There are, however, other ways to diffuse the situation and engage with China, rather than rage against the machine.
It’s Not “You” vs. “Them”
It isn’t you vs. everyone in China, despite how much it feels that way. Break down your anger against China by having an interaction with one person that can serve as a reminder that the Middle Kingdom is not your nemesis. The frustration felt toward the management office staff need not be taken out on the shifu you encounter. Rather than brushing past him, take a deep breath, smile and take the time to exchange pleasantries. The building workers aren’t out to get you and one conversation can serve as a reminder of this truth.
China isn’t the only place where bureaucracy is frustrating
The paperwork and red tape in China can be a significant tipping point. Case in point: going to the bank for anything other than using the ATM. Some of these processes make no sense to a foreigner and thus result in rising levels of anger, not only at the ridiculousness of it all, but the lack of control felt while going through the system.
How quickly we forget that the Department of Motor Vehicles in the US can suck hours of our lives. It would likely be a different kind of frustrating, but such is life. In the grand scheme of things, this is a small thing. Things do not always move at the speed we like, but this shouldn't define the way we view the rest of the day.
Don’t shoot the messenger
When we reach our limit, we tend to fly off the handle at the person “helping” us. Rather than targeting that person with all of your anger, remember that this is their job. They don’t make the rules and they are often powerless to change them. At the end of the day, they go home and you screaming at them will not have made their day great and you will not have accomplished anything.
Take some deep breaths and try to disengage from your anger at that person. Engage in an activity that you enjoy like walking through a park and watching the dance party and consciously focus on not dwelling on the incident. Physical activity can help stimulate endorphins and take your mind off the problem.
These aren’t instant fixes to exasperation, but being mindful of how we react to situations and how we choose to interact after hitting the wall are both within our control.