Brazil burnout coping strategies

These are a few of the things that have helped me stay sane during my fading love for Brazil as described in my last post. They’re little things (and I don’t do them consistently) but when I do, they’re an enormous help to my peace of mind.

Leave at least 15 minutes earlier than you technically have to


It’s soooo much better not to be pressed for time in Brazil – because the country will NOT help you.

First of all, leaving earlier gives you a bit of a buffer in case you hit heavier than normal traffic, or your bus passes on the outside lane without stopping (see this masterful illustration) and you have to wait for the next one. Secondly, leaving earlier allows you to walk slower. The New York City power walk does not do well in a tropical climate. Thirdly, if you run into someone you know on the street, you’ll have time to stop and chat a bit rather than being the cold, rushed, time-is-money type. (Of course, this can sometimes backfire).

Throw away your day planner

I absolutely love those little day planner booklets (I’m old school, I like the paper ones). But I haven’t used mine for the past two months, and I’m moving towards getting rid of it entirely. Why? Well, I’m normally an excellent time manager, but the problem is that in Brazil you never get as much done as you plan to.

In the States, you can get 4 errands done in an hour – supermarket, bank, post office, dry cleaners’ and DONE! In Brazil, you’ll spend half an hour in line at the post office, 20 minutes at the bank (even though the legal limit for wait time is 15), and God help you if you expect to “pop in and out” of the supermarket.

So everything kept getting pushed back in my day planner one day… then 3 days… then a week. The errands would pile up and I’d get frustrated because I could never keep up with my own to-do list. Interestingly, without the day planner, I’ve still managed to get (most) things done – with substantially less stress.

Turn rants into humor


Brazilians – and particularly Bahians – are some of the most cheerful people on the planet, and my husband is no exception. I’ve never met anyone who maintains a positive attitude more consistently than he does. His schedule is even tougher than mine, yet he stays upbeat and doesn’t complain.

But one thing that can easily put him in a bad mood is when I vent about my crappy day. The complaining and negativity makes him cranky; the atmosphere in the house changes, and instead of feeling better, I feel like I’ve poisoned the air.

Sometimes I really do need to vent my frustrations, though, and I’ve discovered that I can do it if I tell the story differently. Rather than straight-up ranting, I try to describe my woes with a humorous spin. He laughs, I end up laughing, and in the process I find that my own view of the events is transformed.

Adopt Brazilian ways and “forget” about home


The easiest example is food. If you try to maintain your home country’s diet here, you’ll constantly be frustrated by the limited (or non-existent) availability of your favorite foods. But if you stop fighting the flow and just go with the pão francês and feijão, your cravings for breakfast cereal and PB&J sandwiches will fade. Plus, when you do visit your home country, you’ll have good cheese and chocolate to look forward to.

The same goes for holidays (see Rachel’s post about adapting to Christmas in Brazil) – you just can’t compare them or think about what you’re missing; it’s too painful. The Brazilian calendar has a lot to love (even the ridiculous holidays) – but you need to practice selective amnesia to avoid drowning in saudades. 

Be involved in something you love and/or are good at

For me, that has always been capoeira. After 10 years in the art – although I still have a lot that needs to be improved – I don’t feel so much pressure or urgency to do so. True, on bad days I sometimes bring the negative energy with me and play like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. But on most days it’s liberating.

  • What a wonderful post! This is excellent for anyone living in another culture. Culture shock is difficult, and I’ve found it goes both ways. When I returned to the US after living abroad/traveling for 2 years, almost everything was annoying from overuse of cars to everyone being in such a hurry to completely understanding every little thing everyone said!

    I really do have empathy for you, however, because you have known Brazil as a vacation spot and a joyful place. That’s a tumble to take, to just regular life.

    Thanks for your post- it lifts my spirits and helps me feel connected!

    • Shayna

      I guess the big difference is that in my previous trips to Brazil, the challenges and difficulties were actually kind of fun – learning to express myself in Portuguese, enjoying breakthroughs in understanding Brazilian culture, etc. Now they’re just unsexy difficulties like stress about finances. I’m a frugal person, and I was proud that I was able to “make it” in NYC while earning a salary substantially less than the average. But here, our income supposedly puts us into the middle class, making us more fortunate than a large segment of the population – and we still struggle. I seriously don’t know how the Brazilians earning minimum wage survive at all.

      It is indeed a shock going back to the U.S. – I’m curious about how my husband will view things there when he visits (someday). I also find it hard to explain the reality of life here to family and friends in the U.S., and why I can’t just up and travel with Christian to the States for Christmas. It’s not for lack of vontade!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  • I know how this goes 🙁 try to stay positive and maybe set mini goals of happiness. Like I am going to eat healthy all week (random I know) then by doing something good for yourself you can turn a little of the bad, that you are feeling, away for awhile. This works for me when I start to get down. I will make a point to do yoga or things that I can control to make me happy!!

    • Shayna

      Yes! Sometimes a little thing can turn the day around. As strange as it sounds, I actually sometimes enjoy cleaning the house simply because (as you said) it’s something I can control – and get immediate results. This feels good after wasting the whole morning in traffic / in line / in the middle of incompetent bureaucrats / etc!

  • Hi again! I really feel for you with this one. I had a similar crash a few months after I got to Brazil. I had been travelling for a full year and for a while I felt I was still just enjoying the fun. Then one day I realised that everyone else here had a life and I needed to get one too. Not long after there followed the trials of finding a job, trying to legalise my situation, a marriage, ongoing visa issues.

    Add to that general backdrop of not having any friends (apart from friends of my wife, but they don’t really count because they have to like me!), being thousands of miles away from my family and feeling isolated because of the language. I’ve had some great times in Rio, but I’ve also been very down for quite long periods. People who just visit, think it’s all caipirinhas and carnaval but the reality of actually living here isn’t always so great.

    I think your last tip is really key. I have spent more time on cooking, photography and writing then I ever did back home. This has really helped and I see this as one of my biggest successes during my time in Brazil – successes I never would have had time for back home because I would have been out with friends or family.

    (glad you liked the hummingbird shots btw!)

    • Shayna

      For the first six months here, I maintained my U.S. job – and that wasn’t so bad; I was able to keep the balance between work and general enjoyment. Then two things happened: I started working at Brazilian wages instead (hello, 50% pay cut!) and got engaged (hello, bureaucratic nightmares!)

      Have you been back to England since moving here? On the bright side, I find that whenever I do go back, everything seems AMAZINGLY efficient! (omg, there’s no line at the bank! there’s excellent customer service! even the Department of Motor Vehicles is organized and effective!)

      • I went back in July for the first time in almost 2 years. Was very strange to be back in a country where everyone spoke English. And to see my friends and family again. It was a good time to go back – summertime in London can be pretty good when you don’t have to work! Maybe this doesn’t apply to you so much, but sometimes I have to remind myself that I had a lot of frustrations with things back in England too – post office and bank queues, work issues.

        But you’re right, on the whole I was left thinking “Wow, these buses feel so safe and modern!” etc.

  • Yeah, you gotta stay positive and laugh otherwise you’d just get madness of the head!