Tips for navigating the stress of relocating and feeling at home in a new place from psychologist and psychotherapist Elizabeth Stirling, PhD.
Expert Source: Santa Fe, N.M.–based psychologist and psychotherapist Elizabeth Stirling, PhD, specializes in supporting people who are in the midst of significant life changes and transitions.
Americans move a lot. According to a 2013 Gallup survey, nearly a quarter of the adult U.S. population moved during the previous five years. Many of us feel compelled to pack up and change locations routinely, ever in search of new opportunities, like our immigrant or pioneer ancestors.
Relocating to a new city or town is stressful for anybody, even if the move represents a positive change. Largely this is because uprooting yourself from familiar places and people is never easy, and the challenges of adjusting to a new locale are many. How will you find your way around? How will you make friends? Will you lose all the friends you made in your former home? Does anyone sell your favorite mustard? On top of that, you may have second thoughts — did I really make the right decision? What if I’m miserable here?
Elizabeth Stirling, PhD, a Santa Fe, N.M.–based psychologist and psychotherapist who specializes in helping people navigate major life changes, offers some simple advice for overcoming moving anxiety and easing into a new place.
Barriers to Overcome
- Fear of the unknown. Stirling points out that it’s natural to worry about the unforeseeable — what this new place will be like as a home, how you’ll respond to it, and so on. Any major change brings unpredictability, which is unsettling.
- Unfamiliarity with the process. “One big determinant of how stressed a move will make you is how often you’ve moved before,” Stirling says. If you’ve never made the transition or your last move was in childhood, you’re bound to be more concerned about the process than a veteran relocator.
- Concerns about losing old friends and making new ones. Parting with familiar people and setting yourself up in a new place usually brings loneliness — and the worry that old friends will disappear from your life entirely. Meanwhile, the prospect of making new friends can be daunting.
- The sheer labor. There’s no way around it — moving takes a lot of work, and you may feel overwhelmed by the myriad details and decisions, from arranging for the moving van to setting up water and electricity in the new place. Then there’s discovering the best grocery stores, restaurants, and possible schools near your new home.
- Regret. In any major life change, even the most positive, there will be things that you’ll miss about your old life. Some regret is inevitable, Stirling believes, but having second thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean the move was a mistake.
Strategies for Success
- Research the new place. Before you leave your familiar surroundings, learn about your new home through books, maps, online sites, and people who know the area, Stirling suggests. If you don’t have time to do much research before you move, do it when you get there. Pretend you’re a tourist and you don’t want to miss anything.
- Think positive. “One of the greatest rewards of moving is the fact that it represents new beginnings and new excitement — a fresh landscape, new people to meet, perhaps a new and better job,” Stirling says. “If you keep that in mind, you can overcome a lot of negative feelings about the changes.”
- Create and use a support system. Don’t hesitate to get support from your good friends in the place you’re leaving. “If you’re feeling down about the move, before, during, or after, let them know it and ask for their support,” Stirling says. “Contact them after you’ve moved, and go back to visit them, too, if you can, for some TLC.”
- To make new friends, be a joiner. Mutual-interest clubs, classes, and religious gathering places offer easy and immediate opportunities to connect with new people. Stirling suggests finding groups to join as soon as it’s practical.
- Learn from your new contacts. “Finding resources, like good restaurants, doctors, massage therapists, and such, can take time,” says Stirling, “but you can do it best through the people you meet.”
- Involve the kids. If you’re moving with kids, ease their stress by including them in the process. “Show them maps, get them involved in finding information about the new place,” recommends Stirling. Try to minimize disruption to the school year.
- Don’t move alone. “It’s difficult to move on your own,” says Stirling. If you’re single, or the only adult, she suggests asking a relative or friend to help you with the process. He or she can assist with the endless details, like scheduling moving trucks and connecting new utilities, as well as provide emotional support.
- Start by establishing a comforting routine. “It’s good to set up some routines in the new place for a feeling of belonging in your new environment,” says Stirling. A regular walk in your new neighborhood can familiarize you with the streets and with your neighbors. A gym routine can help structure your day and serve as a way to make new friends.
- Seek out new experiences. Instead of lamenting what you’re leaving behind, Stirling says, search for opportunities that are uniquely available in your new locale. If you have to say goodbye to a thriving theater scene, try getting into the hiking or horseback riding that are now available in your new home.
- Reconnect with your partner. If you’re moving with a partner, know that it can strain relationships, says Stirling. Set aside time for connecting to help ease the pressure. “Make ‘us time,’ go on dates, and help each other discover the new place,” she says.
- Hang pictures on the wall. “If there’s one simple thing that can make your new place feel like home right away,” Stirling says, “it’s getting your favorite pictures on the wall, even before you finish unpacking.” Your favorite art and photography — icons of who you are and what you love — are the fastest way to make a new place feel like it’s your own.