- Moving can be destabilizing regardless of whether it’s under good or bad circumstances
- Preparing is half the battle when it comes to moving, according to experts
Of all the types of upheaval you’re likely to experience in your life, moving is one of the more universal.
Whether it’s heading off to university, moving close to family after a long time away, moving as far away from your relatives as humanly possible, or somewhere in-between, that shift requires preparation and recovery. And as rent and housing prices have skyrocketed in the past year, many Americans have been forced to make stressful transitional decisions.
Mental health professionals agree that, regardless of whether a move can be characterized as a good thing or a bad thing, there are strategies to make the change easier on your brain
Preparation Starts in Advance
Dr. Danielle Roeske, PsyD, is no stranger to the art and science of moving. The VP of residential services at Newport Healthcare recently moved from Connecticut to Pennsylvania and says that one of the keys to a mentally healthy move is doing some work to process the change before it’s even started.
Amy Deacon, RSW, MSW
Any major change is going to require a major adjustment. It’s a transition and we have to remember that, as human beings, most of us are not wired to enjoy change.
“It’s almost like in motivational therapy, we think about the stages of change. Well, I think we go through that with relocation, right? We start to wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else, and what types of environments we’d like to live in, and maybe we start perusing things online…I think all of this is a really important part of the psychic preparation process, to consider a major shift in our life and start to wonder about what something different might look and feel like.”
Amy Deacon, RSW, MSW, and founder of Toronto Wellness Counselling, says it’s also important to remember that big life changes like a move aren’t something our bodies or minds naturally find fun.
“Any major change is going to require a major adjustment. It’s a transition and we have to remember that, as human beings, most of us are not wired to enjoy change. Often we interpret it as a threat and so even if it’s something that we’re really looking forward to, having mixed feelings, mixed emotions, is completely normal.”
Leaving and Arriving
So, you’ve said goodbye to your support systems, you’ve imagined your new life in a new space, you’ve hopped on a plane, in a car, or on a train. What now? Deacon says that finding practices that can “tether” you during the transition is key both before you leave and after you arrive.
“Journaling, [contemplating] gratitude, getting support from people that we’re already established with, the exercise, making sure that we’re sleeping well, really priming our bodies and our brains to have the best chance to adjust and to transition with as much grace as possible.”
Roeske says that one key way of establishing ourselves in a new space is to ground ourselves in what we choose to unpack or do first. That can be exploring the neighborhood, shifting into previous routines, or, in her case, unpacking her kitchen.
Dr. Danielle Roeske, PsyD
We think about grieving and loss in many life circumstances, certainly with lots of relationships and individuals. And I think sometimes a location is a part of that.
“Like, for me, having my kitchen set up as a mom and having my family, that was something that was really important to have early on because it felt like an anchor for us as a family. And so I think for people to identify what the pieces are and then prioritize that’s going to help create an environment that’s going to make it a lot easier for us mentally and emotionally to settle into the change.”
Roeske believes that it’s important to remember that it’s easy to “get caught up in the momentum of the process” and Deacon agrees. She says that while it can be easy to think of a move as a before and after, a flip of the switch, the timeline is actually much longer.
“It usually takes three months for people to acclimatize, and to get adjusted, and for our brains to kind of calm down and realize that this is going to be our new normal.”
Grieving the Death of an Imagined Future
In conversations about moving it can be easy to imagine a happy adventure. You, sitting at a table with your friends, singing songs and telling stories. Sure, you’re moving, but you’re off to new adventures. Happy, and blissful, and filled with (generally good) apprehension.
But what if your move is under more difficult circumstances? Deacon says that in situations like these, it’s important to not think of the move as a magical cure.
“It’s important to note that the new space will not necessarily bring the healing and the peace that we’re looking for. It’s important that we take the time within ourselves to really process what we’ve been through because the truth is that if we don’t process and sort of learn from what we’ve been through, we’re at risk of repeating it,” says Deacon.
If our brain space is starting to be overcome with negative thoughts, Roeske says it’s important to give ourselves grace and create space for imagined futures that aren’t quite as grueling.
“And while we may have a preconceived idea of what moving is going to be like, I think allowing ourselves the space to consider there might be more opportunities that we can’t see. So, considering the possibility that there will be positives to this move that we’re not currently attached to or attuned to.”
She says that coming to grips with a move made under any circumstance, but particularly a difficult one, is another form of grief.
“We think about grieving and loss in many life circumstances, certainly with lots of relationships and individuals. And I think sometimes a location is a part of that.”
What This Means for You
If you’re contemplating a move, or recovering from a recent one, remember to give yourself space to process. Try to ground yourself in your new environment and consider new possibilities.
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