Why Moving Stresses Us Out So Much, And How To Make It Easier

Many of us will pick up and re-locate at some point. Even knowing it’s a pretty common adventure, moving is supposedly the third most stressful event in a person’s life, after death and divorce. Here’s how to deal with it.

Lifehacker spoke with Rosalie Knecht, LMSW, and a program director of a mental health clinic in New York City. Many of Knecht’s clients have either immigrated thousands of kilometres and “left everything behind” or they’ve conversely never moved out of their parents’ homes. She sees certain anxieties occur in most people who are making a huge geographical change, or even just considering it.

Here are some of the things that make you feel so stressed out when you move, along with some potential salve for your distress.

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So you're in your brand-new apartment or house. Some of the boxes are still waiting to be unpacked, but you're so excited about making this space into a home that you're spending hours at IKEA comparing couch pillows and loading up shopping carts to see how much everything you might want is going to cost.

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Plan For The Financial Strain

Unsurprisingly, Knecht says moves often involve a lot of economic anxiety, even if you have a safety net. Many people move without a job, and some are forced to do so without a savings or much of anything at all. The cost of travel, especially if you are trying to move a big chunk of your things, is often astronomical no matter how you’ve planned for it. Expenses crop up.

This is probably one of the most obvious things we worry about when moving, so if you have the privilege of lining up work and building a nest egg, do it. Planning ahead enough to send things or sell things is great, as is shedding yourself of certain belongings.

I say this as someone who has just moved across the country — most of my furniture was old and given to me for free. I didn’t transport or store it. After deciding it wasn’t worth the cost, it went curbside.

Everyone’s situation is different, but try to be practical about what you really need when you go.

Brace Yourself For A Sense Of Social Loss

A move disrupts the safety net you’re used to relying on, whether it’s babysitting help from your parents, someone to hang out with on Friday nights, or a neighbour who helps you carry in groceries from the car. Big and small connections create a sense of belonging that we depend on, according to Knecht:

We are intensely social animals, and when we’re removed from our social context we feel exposed, inadequate, and sometimes even unstable in our identity, since our identities are often formed in exchange with other identities. I think it’s definitely worse over a long distance, because a very short move could leave those networks intact.

But Knecht adds that she has found even a short move creates dysphoric feelings for people.

“Context is everything and it takes a while for a person to make sense of an integrate themselves into a new context,” she writes. “During the transition, we’re all hermit crabs without shells.”

Stay In Touch And Get Out There

To combat this feeling, Knecht recommends getting away from those hermit-y feelings as quickly as possible:

I think staying in touch with your people is key, which is easier in the modern age, and getting out and about as quickly as possible so that you can start to build that sense of who you are in this new environment and where you fit in. Easier said than done!

Yes, it is, but I try to think of it like when your foot falls asleep — moving it around hurts, but you’ll be able to stand on it sooner. If you go to church, find a new one in your neighbourhood; look for community events by searching Facebook for local groups that might catch your interest; maybe try doing some volunteering. Nothing like sweating side-by-side at a beach clean up to make friends.

If you’re feeling really bold, you could even introduce yourself to your neighbours. Heck, help them with their groceries.

Remember Why It’s Still Good To Go

So, why does anyone move unless they absolutely have to? Well, not all big or small moves have to be just stress and misery. They can help you grow as a person:

A big change forces a rearrangement of mental schema, and often involves reexamining what makes you happy and what doesn’t, and what you need and what you don’t. Identities naturally shift over time and external changes can provide a space for that to happen for a person who’s been avoiding it.

Change isn’t easy, but it can still be very, very good.


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