Moving can bring exciting opportunities to enjoy a new job, home, and friends. It can also bring stress. Learning to deal with relocation stress is an important part of a successful move.
The challenges of relocation rarely end when the moving van pulls away. Stress may increase after you have settled into a new home or job. Learning how to handle relocation stress can help you adjust to and make the most of your new surroundings.
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What is relocation stress?
The stress associated with moving can be mild or severe. Some people enjoy their new jobs or friends so much that they experience only minor symptoms of stress during a move. In other cases, the stress can be severe enough that experts consider it equal to that of a divorce or death in the family. The physical signs of relocation stress can include
- greater susceptibility to disease and infection
The emotional symptoms of relocation stress are varied. Some people feel irritable or impatient. Others may become moody, depressed, or withdrawn. They may have nightmares, lose interest in sex, cry frequently, or experience feelings of panic.
Stress can also show up in a wide range of behavioral symptoms. These can include nail biting, grinding or gnashing teeth, or abusing drugs or alcohol. Stress can lead to absenteeism, tardiness, or an inability to focus on easy tasks at work.
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Gaining a sense of control
Gaining a sense of control over your move can help ease daily stresses. Here are some good ways to gain control:
- Make lists. Write down what you need to do as the first step toward accomplishing your many tasks.
- Plan ahead. Avoid last-minute anxiety by organizing as much as you can in advance.
- Prioritize. Rather than trying to do it all, identify and work on what is most important.
- Break tasks down into manageable parts. Start with small jobs, such as arranging for mail to be forwarded or finding referrals to doctors in the new community. After taking care of these things, you'll feel freer to pursue more time-consuming activities, such as building new friendships or fixing up a house.
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The importance of taking care of yourself
You can minimize relocation stress by taking good care of yourself. It's important not to abandon the good health habits that you had before you moved. Here are some ways to take care of yourself in new surroundings:
- Get physical exercise. Let off steam by running, walking, swimming, gardening, or taking a class like dance or woodworking. To increase physical stamina, an aerobic workout -- one that gets the heart pumping -- should last at least 20 minutes and should be performed a minimum of three times a week.
- Minimize other stresses. Stress in other areas of your life may compound the effects of relocation stress. In the months just before and after a move, it's a good idea to avoid starting a diet or beginning a big, emotionally consuming project.
- Take breaks. Unplug the phone, turn off the lights, and enjoy a little quiet time.
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Finding outlets for tension
These tips can help you to keep your feelings about relocating in perspective:
- Give yourself permission to experience sudden emotions. Remember that a good cry is a healthy way to relieve stress. Some people find that watching a sad movie or reading a sentimental novel is an easy way to release pent-up feelings.
- Catch yourself when you're being negative. Try to avoid saying things like, "I'll never adjust to this move." Focus instead on your accomplishments. Try to see the positive.
- Hold on to your sense of humor. Call a friend to share a joke, or unwind after a long day by renting your favorite funny video.
- Keep a journal. Journal writing can offer more therapeutic benefits than counseling sessions.
- Reach out and try to connect with other people. Researchers have found that being with other people can make you feel less tense or depressed.
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Four relaxation exercises
Many people find that relaxation exercises help to reduce the tension of moving. These four exercises are easy to do and can be performed almost anywhere:
- Meditation. First, take three deep breaths. Then think about an aspect of the move that is making you feel tense. Allow yourself to experience any anger, sadness, or frustration that may have been building up. Ask: Where in my body do I feel that stress? Is it my neck? My stomach? My back? Identifying the physical site of stress is the first step to overcoming tension. Concentrate on the part of the body most sensitive to stress. Imagine that this part of the body is softening as the stress eases.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique takes about twenty minutes and can help you fall asleep. Lie in a comfortable, quiet place. Turn down the lights and play relaxing music. Relax each muscle, starting with the crown of the head. Slowly progress from the scalp to the forehead, then relax down to the tips of the toes.
- One variation on this technique is first tensing an isolated muscle group for about 10 seconds, then relaxing that muscle group for another 10 seconds. For instance, you might squint your eyes and then open them as wide as possible.
- Try both techniques and select the one that works best. After relaxing all the muscles, remain in the same position for a few moments before rising to stretch.
- Deep breathing. Lie or sit in a peaceful setting and inhale either through your nose or mouth to a slow count of 10. Breathe from the diaphragm, not the chest; your chest and shoulders should not move. Hold the breath for a slow count of 10. Then exhale through your mouth to a slow count of 10.
- Visualization. Find a comfortable position and breathe deeply for a minute or two. Picture a relaxing setting. Remember that this is a mental vacation and visualize the situation in detail. Imagine lying on a beach, feeling the heat of the sun, and admiring the beauty of a sunset while hearing the waves gently roll up to the shore. Enjoy the smell of the salt air and taste it on your lips. Involve all five senses in your visualization.
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Helping children handle stress
Although children can experience physical stress in much the same way as adults, they lack the ability to put problems in perspective. Here are some ways to help your child handle the challenges of moving:
- Let your child know that it's OK to feel anxious. Reassure your child that it's natural to miss old friends or his old school. Make sure your child understands that the frustrations of moving are usually temporary.
- Be alert for signs of stress, such as a rapid heart beat, trouble falling asleep, or an upset stomach. Help your child get through these symptoms, and seek medical help if the symptoms persist. Let your child know that sometimes you have trouble falling asleep too, or get tension headaches from stress. Talking about the problem will help your child feel less worried.
- Take practical steps to ease worries. Try to figure out what aspect of moving worries your child the most. Some children become very anxious because they don't know the way to a new school. You might walk the route together or rehearse boarding the school bus.
- Be a role model with a positive attitude. Try to convey to your child that, although moving can be hard, it's also an adventure. Focus on the good things about relocating. Encourage your child to help plan new activities that you can enjoy together, and take time to have fun.
With a little extra patience and care for yourself and others during relocating, you will be able to adjust more quickly and soon find yourself enjoying your new community.
Written with the help of Rebecca Dion, M.S.S., L.C.S.W., Q.C.S.W., C.E.A.P. Ms. Dion is regional director of Behavioral Health Residential Services at Northwestern Human Services and is a member of the National Association of Social Workers. She is a past board member of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
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