Underchallenged and Unsatisfied: How “Boreout” can Affect Expat Partners

Underchallenged and Unsatisfied: How “Boreout” can Affect Expat Partners

By Camilla Quintana

We all know what a burnout is, but have you heard of boreout? It’s a disorder caused by chronic mental underload that leads to a persistent lack of motivation and interest, to frustration, lethargy and in some cases even depression. 

While boreout is well documented in the workplace, little is said about how it can affect others outside the workplace as well. I have encountered this syndrome in some of my expat clients, particularly accompanying wives, who find themselves suddenly lost and insufficiently challenged in their new country. 

The reason that this widespread phenomenon isn’t talked about as much as it should be is in part because boreout symptoms are often dismissed as ‘first world problems’. After all, who would pity you for not having lots of stress and plenty of free time? 

But when this becomes your new normal and you feel underchallenged on a daily basis, it can be deeply unsatisfying and make you feel useless or worthless. This can shatter self-confidence, making it even more difficult to break out of the destructive patterns.

How to identify boreout

Boreout is most commonly found in office jobs. Oftentimes, employees enter the workplace with high motivation but then discover that either their tasks don’t fit their expectations or qualifications, or they may have superiors who don’t delegate to them. 

Boreout-affected individuals slide into a downward spiral of boredom, feeling like a fraud and fearing it could be discovered. They typically develop a series of coping strategies to pretend to be busy (always having a work-related tab open when they’re actually googling their next vacation; eating lunch at their desk; taking files home with them in the evening; or making personal calls sound like they could be work-related) in an attempt to keep up appearances. 

Boreout and the expat partner

Expat partners are often educated and qualified. To make the move abroad, some may have given up their own career for the sake of their partner’s.  

Depending on location and type of foreign assignment, expat experiences can come with certain privileges: a new home, help around the house, nannies, private schools, and sometimes a pay raise. As an expat partner, you may fear that others would see you as ungrateful if you complained about your new situation. Your friendships abroad may be more superficial or connected to your spouse’s company, making it difficult to tell them about how unhappy you are. So you stay quiet, feel ashamed about the feelings you’re having and as a result get even more stuck in the vicious cycle.

In my work as a certified Life and Relationship Coach, specializing on expat women, I’ve found that boreout typically affects accompanying spouses who:
            – are unable to work abroad but crave intellectual stimulation
            – had to take a job that doesn’t fit their qualifications and interests, out of a sheer lack of options
            – do not work, but whose children are away at school for a large part of the day.

Studies suggest that it’s more unlikely for a person taking care of, or working with, children full-time to develop boreout, due to the nature and urgency of the interaction, as well as the sense of significance a caretaker often feels.

What contributes to boreout?

1. Digitalization: From social media and YouTube to Google or Netflix – there’s always something to distract us on the Internet. This can make us ‘too comfortable’ to go out and look for more fulfilling and productive things to do.

2. Outside Pressure: Wanting to keep up appearances for the sake of your personal image, your partner’s position/image, or for your children, can make it hard to open up about what you’re experiencing.

3. Lack of Integrity: Studies suggest that at the workplace, a lack of integrity and identification with the company puts employees at a greater risk to suffer from boreout. When you live abroad and especially if you’re there on a temporary assignment, you may experience the same type of dis-identification with your host country. You might think: “Why bother looking for good friends, a job or a class to take…. I’ll be gone in a few years anyway.”

How to overcome boreout:

  • Self-awareness: 

First of all, it is important to be aware of the existence of this syndrome. Have you experienced a lack of motivation and drive lately? Do you miss a sense significance, stimulation and accomplishment in your daily life? Does shame and wanting to keep up appearances get in the way of admitting this?

  • Self Compassion:

Being able to give your emotional state a name can be a tremendous relief and validates your experience. It’s okay for you to feel the way you do and you are by no means the only one. Be kind to yourself throughout the healing process, as letting go of the shame associated with your symptoms is necessary for your recovery. Try to speak to yourself like you would to your best friend. 

  • Talk about it

Has your partner worried about or criticized your lack of drive and motivation? Sharing this article with them can open up a constructive dialogue about what you’re going through. Can you seek the comfort of a good friend? Can you get an accountability partner to motivate you to research and schedule more gratifying activities? I also strongly recommend talking to a trained professional to help you break out of the Boreout cycle.

  • Taking Responsibility: 

While you may not be able to change the main circumstances that contributed to your boreout, you can focus on what’s in your circle of influence and take full responsibility for that. So often, we focus on what we don’t want or have, but in order to grow we need to get clear on what it is we do want for our lives. Setting positive intentions is a vital ingredient for growth:

  •  Reflect on what your goals are in life. What would it take for you to get there and to embody the kind of person you want to be? What would they do? What wouldn’t they do? 

  • Re-think and re-instate boundaries, for yourself and others. Take care of yourself and find a good balance between doing what you have to do and doing what you like to do.

  • Schedule your time carefully. What tasks could you add to your daily schedule that would fill you with joy? Put a system into place that will make it easier for you to be productive (for instance, set a timer to go off after 20 minutes spent on Pinterest; challenge yourself to meet with 2 people a week, to enroll in a class or to volunteer).

  • Look for meaning and purpose:  

Meaning and purpose make up one of my “4 Pillars of a Fulfilled Life Abroad” Framework. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to go looking for them outside. Purpose can be created from within and regardless of your current location by getting clear on:

  • what truly brings you joy in life
  • what your unique skills and values are
  • what impact you want to make in the world

Also: make sure to actively look for activities that will stimulate your intellect, because that’s exactly what’s needed to overcome boreout. 

Camilla Quintana is a certified Life and Relationship Coach, specializing on Expat Women. With help of her signature 4-Pillar Approach, she helps them to create a truly fulfilled life, regardless of their postcode. Having been an expat herself for almost two decades adds additional insight and sensitivity to the common challenges faced by accompanying spouses.

Images courtesy of Camilla Quintana and Canva.com

Camilla Quintana

Born and raised in Vienna (Austria) in a multicultural family, Camilla Quintana currently resides in the Basque Country (North of Spain) with her husband and two sons. She provides virtual expat coaching in three languages (English, German and Spanish). For more information please visit www.camillaquintana.com.

In light of the lack of information and awareness on boreout, especially among expat wives, Camilla has opened up a few slots for a complimentary 60-minute consultation. Click here to schedule it: www.camillaquintana.com/schedule-your-session.

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