Relocation Depression: How To Manage Sadness With Moving

By Mary Elizabeth Dean|Updated June 17, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Dawn Brown, LPC

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 very real experience and that there are actually some syndromes (e.g., transfer trauma and relocation stress syndrome) that can cause depression when it comes to moving.

Relocation Depression

Relocation depression manifests in different ways and could last even up to years after a move. Reading on in this article, you might discover why you are feeling so down after relocating, even though you were excited by the prospects of the new city and new experiences that come with it, and how to overcome relocation depression.

Just Relocated? A Look at This Type Of Depression

Relocation depression is just as the name suggests – feeling a sense of overwhelming and persistent sadness that can develop into depression that goes on for a length of time spanning months to years, due to moving, which can include moving locally or long distance as long as you are away from where you call home.

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 home they love – or perhaps the only one they have 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 can cut so deeply.

How To Combat Moving Depression

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 from 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 This Feeling

Moving to a new place is not without stress, and coupled with missing loved ones, it can take a toll on your mental health. It could be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of this overwhelming sadness when you are away from home. However, the following factors can shed more light on the causes of relocation depression.

Fear Of The Unknown

A lot of relocation depression symptoms are caused by an 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, have mapped out your friends (and maybe also your “enemies”), have your favorite haunts, and have most likely found refuge places for when you are feeling down. When you leave this place for a new one, you may have to start all over from square one – and that can be absolutely terrifying and feel isolating.

We become so complacent in (and at times dependent on) our routines that anything that threatens to disrupt them 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 who are more tentative about moving, you may be feeling lost, confused, and uncertain of what lies ahead. Other symptoms of transitional trauma include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Fearfulness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate

Transitional Trauma Is Real

You might also experience weight loss, sleep changes, or eating disorders. In some cases, the individual may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with moving to a new location.

People who have experienced relocation depression have described this time as feeling like a loss of control, the end of an era, or even a loss of confidence. Seniors, in particular, are susceptible since they have often spent a good bit of their 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 likely means you’ve fallen in love with the place from whence you are traveling. Everything is a matter of perspective, and if you’ve learned to love one place, you can learn to love another! Change can be difficult, but if we challenge ourselves to grow through it and find the good, it can be a fantastic catalyst for growth and increased happiness long-term.

At the same time, 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.

Assuming Formlessness

Humans have an incredible ability to adapt – that’s why we’re found on most every corner of the planet! The nature of life as we know it is growth and change. If you play your cards right, this enormous challenge is going to instill confidence in you like none you’ve ever experienced and help you to further grow and learn more about yourself and the world.

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 likely 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, a writer or artist, a physician, or an Olympic weightlifter? Or perhaps you wanted to be more adventurous, have meaningful interactions with strangers, or obtain land and adopt some pets. 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 so long as you stay true to yourself and remain patient – 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 pleasant nostalgia that will soon accompany your memories of it. Before you lies an opportunity to correct your faults and live your dreams.

New Love

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 family members 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 likely 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.

Overcoming Sadness In A New City

You may have left where you call home at a point in your life, whether it was due to local moving or long distance. Chances are that you may be sad and overwhelmed at the prospects. However, you are open to new possibilities and want to tackle the sad feelings head-on. Below are important tips to get you through this challenge and come out feeling good as ever and still like yourself.

  • Reducing Stress During Relocation

To overcome the transitional trauma of moving, reducing stress is a must. Long-distance moving is already a strenuous activity to plan on its own. You now have to adapt to the area, while missing your family members and loved ones, and that can take a toll on someone. We have come up with a few tips on dealing with the stress of moving. Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t Rush Yourself

Sadness after moving 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 is likely to only make your relocation depression worse. Also, if you notice the signs of relocation depression in yourself, don’t be in a hurry with getting yourself to feel better. Take some time off to enjoy and benefit from therapy. You are already partway there.

  • 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.

Keep in touch with home; we understand that you are likely missing your loved ones from your previous location, so try to reach out to them even via social media. Talk to them about how you are feeling. You do not have to cut off the people you love and isolate yourself just because of a move.

  • 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. There are also several resource centers in the new environment that can help with acclimatizing to the new environment.

  • Relocation Is Not Always Easy

The relocation depression that you’re feeling may not always just “go away.” For some who need a professional source of support and guidance, or a resource center when moving or going through any sort of large transition, seeing a therapist or counselor may be a helpful option.

People take can take months, even years before a new place starts to feel like home and for some, it never happens. So, take each day as it comes, one day at a time. If help is the way to go for you, do it. Getting advice from people who have struggled with the issue and are now over it is a step in the right direction as they best understand what you are going through.

  • Take Up Hobbies

relocation depression

Transitional Trauma Is Real

You could also try to engage in your hobbies, try taking a walk, cycling, or taking yourself out for a little sightseeing in the new environment to help open your mind to its prospects. You could also start exercising and going to the gym or local park; who knows, you could make a few friends along the way.

Visit the library, museum, or art studio around. Don’t just stay cooped up in your house as isolation can worsen your feelings. Eat healthy, as what you take into your body influences not just your appearance, but state of mind as well. Try to drop or limit the use of substances to cope. They can make your feelings of overwhelming sadness worse and cause more anxiety and guilt. If you find it difficult to do so, try seeking professional care in that regard.

Moving to a new place provides unlimited possibilities, a fresh start towards life, but relocation depression may not allow you to see the change through that lens initially. So, if you feel sad about moving, 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.

Relocation depression can be treated, so do not be alarmed. Seeking expert care in a timely manner and following up with their treatment has a part to play. Sometimes medications may be required; however, the medication should only be taken upon prescription by a healthcare provider. BetterHelp provides a safe space for you to get better from relocation depression and a means to get help for your loved one. If you feel they are navigating depression following relocation, expert therapists at BetterHelp are ever willing to guide you on the road to recovery.

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