Relocation Depression: When Moving Makes You Sad
Updated May 29, 2020
Reviewer Dawn Brown
When we think of trauma that leads to depression, we think of situations like car accidents, witnessing violence, or being abused. Many people are surprised to learn that transitional trauma is a real 'thing' and that there are actually some syndromes (e.g., Transfer Trauma and Relocation Stress Syndrome) that can cause depression when it comes to moving. In this article, we'll refer to it as 'relocation depression.'
A Look at Relocation Depression
When you relocate, a chapter of your life is coming to a close, whether you'd like to admit it or not. Some may be excited to be moving - perhaps they are graduating from college, or leaving their hometown for the first time. For others, leaving the world they love - or perhaps the only one they've ever known - can be depressing. Every relationship built, every landmark you have become attached to - they can all feel like they are becoming fast-fading memories in the wind. For most, painful goodbyes are an inescapable element of this life, and that could be a reason as to why relocating cuts so deeply.
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to turn such a stress-inducing experience into a positive one. Whether you're a student flying the nest for the first time, a professional immersing yourself in a new career or locale, or part of a family going on their next big adventure together, read on to glean more insight as to why you may feel like your relocation is a cause for depression, and what you can do about it.
Understanding Relocation Depression
Fear of the Unknown
A lot of relocation depression symptoms are caused by underlying fear of the unknown, and loss of the familiar. No matter where you call home, you have developed a familiarity with it that is unique to that place. You know how to get around, you have mapped out your friends (and maybe also your enemies), have your favorite haunts, and you have most likely found places of refuge for when you are feeling down. When you leave this place for a new one, you have to start all over from square one - and that can be absolutely terrifying.
We become so complacent in (and at times dependent on) our routines that anything that threatens their continuity arouses anxiety within us. Some of us are fortunate enough to have been born with an adventurous spirit that is conducive to adaptation, and that's great! For those that are more tentative about moving, you are probably feeling lost, confused, and uncertain of what lies ahead. Other symptoms of transitional trauma include feelings of:
- Hopelessness, isolation, and fearfulness
- Forgetfulness, agitation, or aggression
You might also experience weight loss, sleep changes, or problems eating. People who have experience relocation depression have described this time as a loss of control, the end of an era, or even loss of confidence. Seniors in particular are susceptible to relocation depression since they have often spent a good bit of lives in one place and are more likely to have to move not because of choice, but out of necessity.
One way to address relocation is to see it as a challenge for you to overcome. It's actually a good sign that you're feeling depressed about leaving, because it means you've fallen in love with the place from whence you are traveling.
At the same time, though, new opportunities are something to be elated about! It's a beautiful world we live in, and you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to check it out for yourself. Not everyone gets to embark on the journey that you are about to.
We humans are at the top of the food chain on this planet because of our uncanny ability to adapt. The nature of life as we know it is growth and change. If you love who you are already - you have no idea who you can be and what you can become. If you play your cards right, this enormous challenge is going to instill confidence in you like none you've ever experienced.
No matter where you're going, moving to a new place is sure to be saturated with novel challenges. You might have to adjust to a new climate or assimilate into a new culture. All the while, you'll probably be learning a new job, meeting all new people, and visiting places you never thought you'd see. By the end of it all, you'll look in the mirror and see a completely different person than the one you showed up as.
As you prepare for these incipient changes, imagine who you've always wanted to be. When you were growing up, did you want to be an actor, or a rock star, or an Olympic weightlifter? It's a new beginning, and now is the time to chase the goals you were too comfortable to pursue before.
Adapting is difficult, for sure. When you are successful, though - and you will be - you're less likely to second-guess your ability to survive again. As you leave your home, let those melancholy feelings be a reminder of the nostalgia that will soon accompany your memories of it. Before you lies an opportunity to correct your faults and live your dreams.
Sometimes, the hardest part about relocating is knowing that you won't be around the people you love anymore. Some of you might be bringing your families with you, and some of you might be going it alone. In any case, once you arrive at your destination, you'll be tasked with meeting new people and finding new friends.
For many, this is the hardest part about moving. You may worry about being sociable enough, or fitting in with your new neighbors, classmates, or colleagues. It's easy to see yourself in that kind of negative light, especially when this large and perhaps overwhelming transition already has you feeling depressed. However, when you overcome this hurdle and find your new group of people in your new locale, you'll be amazed at how much better you'll start to feel!
As you learn to appreciate the beauty that everyone around you has to offer, you'll be able to look inside yourself and see your good qualities, too. You will learn a lot about what you like and what you don't. You will set new goals for yourself, tackle more challenges, and steadily build a base of self-assurance that will continue to serve you for the remainder of your life.
You might be wondering, "Where do I meet these people?" You'll find them in the places you gravitate toward as you have more experiences that you enjoy. When you discover the things you love doing, you'll find yourself alongside others who feel the same way you do, and your bond will be strengthened by your mutual appreciation for whatever it is you're doing. These are the people who make life worth living. You would never have had the opportunity to meet them if you hadn't migrated. It's just one more thing to smile about.
To overcome transitional trauma or relocation depression, reducing stress is a must. Here are some ideas:
Don't Rush-Relocation depression is heightened when the move is rushed or forced. If you can, take your time to prepare beforehand. If you're at the new location already and struggling, you can still take your time. Don't rush to unpack, find new friends, or get a lot of things accomplished. Putting too much pressure on yourself will only make your relocation depression worse.
Embrace Positivity-Keeping a positive attitude can be tough in any stressful situation. When you are dealing with depression, it can be ten times harder. You can start by writing in a gratitude journal in the mornings. This simple activity can keep you focused on the good and not the bad. Try these other positive thinking tricks as well.
Establish a Support System-Relocation depression is often magnified by isolation. You might be thinking, "How can I establish a support system when I'm in a whole new environment where I know no one?" Getting out and about, finding local support groups, keeping in touch with family and friends, and seeking professional help are all good options. Having just one person who can help you through this tough time can make a world of difference.
It's Not Always Easy
The relocation depression that you're feeling may not always just 'go away.' For some that need a professional source of support and guidance when moving or going through any sort of large transition, seeing a therapist or counselor may be a helpful option.
There is absolutely no shame in seeking help when it all becomes too much to manage. Moving away from your place of security is one of the most challenging things one can endure, and the people you surround yourself with will be the key to making it out of your anxieties and uncertainty, and into feeling more at home.