How To Cope With Relocation Depression: Why Does Moving Make Me Feel Sad?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 9, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Moving homes, whether to a new town, state, country, or even just a new house, can feel overwhelming. The initial excitement of moving to a new area may quickly wear off and change between moving anxiety and relocation sadness. You may be responsible for moving furniture, packing your items into boxes, and saving money for moving expenses such as a moving truck, travel costs, and moving support, which may cause stress. 

After a significant move, you might also experience feelings of unusual sadness, irritability, or exhaustion. It’s not uncommon for moving to cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, and adjustment issues, and if you're experiencing these symptoms, you're not alone. Millions of people worldwide experience depression, and among those are individuals who are living with temporary relocation depression, also sometimes referred to as moving depression. However, support from mental health professionals is available to treat depression. 

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What is relocation depression?

Relocation depression is a type of situational depression that occurs after relocating or moving. This type of depression is not listed in the DSM-V but may demonstrate symptoms similar to those associated with clinical depression on a short-term basis. Your symptoms are real, and support is available to you.

Moving can be a significant life event, on par with other large life events such as having children, getting married, or meeting your partner. Often, significant events can affect multiple aspects of daily life and cause various emotions, such as happiness, excitement, stress, anger, and disappointment.

A recent study shows that moving is reported as one of the most stressful life events by adults around the world. The study indicated that moving was often connected to a plethora of negative mental and physical health risks, so if you’re having a hard time adjusting to life in a new place, you are far from alone. 

What are relocation depression symptoms?

The symptoms of relocation depression may appear similar to those of clinical depression. They include: 

  • Feeling down or experiencing a persistent low mood 
  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight changes
  • Changes in sleep schedule (including insomnia) or energy levels
  • Loss of interest in regular activities 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Difficulty completing daily tasks 
  • Difficulty with personal or sleep hygiene 
  • Physical aches and pains without a clear physical cause
  • Engaging in self-harm or having thoughts of self-harm or suicide*

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

Why does relocation depression happen? 

Relocation depression can occur due to the stress that moving often causes. Mental burnout is a leading cause of depression, and you may feel this sensation after planning a big move. However, knowing the potential causes and risk factors may help you to take action and prevent relocation depression.

Relocation depression might also be caused by the following: 

  • Losing social connections near your previous home 
  • Feeling far away from friends and family members
  • Feeling physically or mentally exhausted from moving
  • A disruption in routine 
  • Fear of uncertainty 
  • An increased financial burden
  • A new job or career opportunity
  • Feeling uncertain about your surroundings
  • Losing support services in your prior community
  • An underlying mental health concern

While we tend to associate stressors with negative changes in our lives, any change, positive or negative, can lead to stress and heighten your risk for depression. Even if you are excited about living in a new location, the energy of adapting to a new place wears on you in ways that could lead to mental health challenges. If you think you may be experiencing relocation depression or an underlying mental illness, reach out for emotional support. 

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Seven ways to cope

As time goes on, you may find it easier to handle any changes in routine or differences in your new life. In some cases, you could find that your new location provides benefits that your previous one did not. However, adjusting to changes can feel challenging, and there are ways to handle your symptoms in the meantime. 
1. Get to know your new local area

You may find that familiarizing yourself with your new neighborhood alleviates symptoms of relocation depression. If you've recently moved to a new city, state, or country, consider exploring. Look up tourist attractions in your area to get an idea of how to become a tourist in your new home. You might find exciting or interesting activities available that weren't offered near your old home. Additionally, exploring could be a valuable way to make new friends or learn about the locals. 

If you're feeling relocation depression while out and about, consider taking pictures or videos of your new location and sending them to your family or friends from your old city. They might feel excited for you and help raise your spirits. See if you can find a unique spot in nature or a hiking trail near your home. Studies show that spending time in nature or changing your location can benefit your mental health. 

2. Make your home feel as comfortable as possible

When you first move to a new home, you may still have everything packed up in boxes. Symptoms of depression can make it feel challenging to unpack your things and settle in. However, clutter and mess can increase depression symptoms, according to one study. You may realize you feel more productive if you can unpack your boxes relatively quickly and make your home feel comfortable and familiar.

The majority of people report feeling most comfortable in their homes. Having a safe space to unwind after a long day can feel cathartic. Once you've unpacked your boxes, consider adding decorations around the house that make you feel peaceful and calm. 

If you don't have many decorations to unpack or put out, consider purchasing a few affordable items to make your environment feel more comfortable.

These items might include: 

  • Incense or candles that make you feel calm 
  • Wall art 
  • Throw pillows or blankets 
  • Curtains 
  • Small decorative items to put on shelves 
  • Photos of your parents, friends, or other people who make you feel supported
Create a space in your house where you can sit or lie down to feel comfortable. It may be a reading nook, a unique recliner, or a beanbag chair you can fall into. When feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or depressed, spend some time in that area participating in a calming activity, such as meditating or reading. Making your new house feel like home may take some time, but it is possible. 
3. Practice self-care

Try not to neglect self-care in the process of moving. Commit to your mental well-being and stay committed to your hygiene as much as possible. Potential self-care activities can include: 
  • Light exercise such as swimming, walking, or going to the gym 
  • Deep breathing
  • Taking a shower 
  • Eating three nutritious meals a day and snacking when needed 
  • Listening to music 
  • Spending time with your social circle
  • Journaling about your thoughts or emotions 
  • Practicing yoga, meditation, or mindfulness
  • Stating self-love affirmations 
  • Participating in a creative activity
  • Continuing to focus on your hobbies
  • Finding moments for laughter
4. Throw a housewarming party

If you feel uncomfortable in your new home, consider throwing a housewarming party to celebrate the beginning of this new chapter in your life. 

If you have friends and family in the area, invite them to your new home. Doing so may motivate you to finish unpacking and clean up the house. You might also buy a few cheap party decorations and use your new kitchen to cook a housewarming meal. 

If you're not up to a highly social event, invite only a few people for a calming or low-key activity like watching a football game or chatting under the stars while sipping a drink. That way, you can stay connected with a support network of friends or family while you adjust. 

5. Give yourself time

Try to give yourself time to adjust to your new situation. Symptoms of relocation depression may lessen over time as you learn more about your neighborhood, home, and new city. It’s okay to spend more time at home or focus more on self-care while feeling down in the first few months after moving. It can be a significant transition, and your body may require time to rest and recover. 

6. Make new friends

If you’ve moved to a new environment where you lack a social circle, it can seem challenging to make new friends. Just like in post-college depression, being far from close friends is one of the reasons for relocation depression.

If this is the case, research social groups in your area. You might be able to join support groups or find a club that meets on a regular basis. If there’s an activity you've always wanted to try, consider signing up for a group course or excursion. For example, you could try rock climbing, hiking, pottery, art, or poetry to make new connections with people who have the same interests. See what's available where you live. 

If you're in a more rural area, sign up to meet friends online. You might be able to get local tips from others on a friendship or dating app and meet someone for drinks or food. As you make new friends, your new home could start to feel less overwhelming, and you may feel a greater sense of hope for a happy future in your new location after relocation depression.

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7. Use mental health services

Finally, meeting with a counselor may be beneficial if you have a clinical diagnosis or you’re unable to relieve symptoms of relocation depression on your own. You can seek professional help through services provided by mental health clinics and other organizations. Therapists are trained in providing mental health services that can address depression and anxiety disorders, among other mental health conditions. If you experience relocation depression that worsens or lasts longer than a few weeks or months, your therapist can act as a support system during the healing process.

Finding a therapist can feel like another stressful task when you're in a new location. Many people who move to a new country where the culture or language feels unfamiliar may experience mental health problems, including prior college students who might be at risk for post-college depression. Online counseling could be valuable for you. 

Online counseling allows you to meet with a counselor or therapist from any location with an Internet connection and is often more affordable than traditional in-person counseling. A platform such as BetterHelp may be able to answer your questions about online therapy and match you with a therapist who can provide professional help. After evaluating your symptoms and overall medical history, including any risk factors for depression, a therapist can make a formal diagnosis and offer talk therapy. Different forms of talk therapy include family therapy, interpersonal therapy, and solution-focused therapy.

Studies indicate that internet-based counseling is significantly effective in helping people manage symptoms of isolation, loneliness, and depression. If you’ve recently experienced a big life event, such as moving, online therapy could be just as effective as traditional, in-person counseling. Overall, a therapist may be able to help support a person’s mental health and manage symptoms of major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, or an adjustment disorder, among other mental health problems. 

Takeaway

Moving can be stressful whether you’re moving just to a new house down the street or to an entirely new country. Relocation depression commonly occurs after a move, as it is a significant life event. When coping with the symptoms of depression, it can be helpful to meet with a therapist to discuss your symptoms and develop a treatment plan. If you're ready to start, consider contacting an online counselor so that you can meet for sessions anytime, anywhere.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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