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A Guide to Help Manage Depression During a Move

depression when moving
Josef Lindau/ Getty Images

Moving to a new place can be exciting and a bit of an adventure, but once the initial excitement of the move fades many people are left with far different feelings. Feelings like exhaustion, uncertainty, doubts, fears and stress can all contribute to moving depression, or what’s popularly come to be known as relocation depression. If you’ve ever moved in your life you might already know how draining and stressful moving can be, both physically and mentally. You may have experienced post-move depression or are in its throes now.

This is our place to talk about depression after moving and how to recognize and overcome these feelings after moving. As long as it isn’t too intense or debilitating you should be able to work through it, even depression after moving to a new state with the help of the tips and resources highlighted in the rest of this article.

It’s okay to have relocation depression

When we think of depression we probably think of a chemical imbalance, or of some severe emotional trauma in the past that’s contributing to the depression. What many people don’t consider is that moving is one of life’s major transitions, and the stress it brings can be a trigger for moving depression.

Depression is not uncommon. According to the World Health Organization there are over 264 million people globally, of all ages and backgrounds, who suffer from depression. Real depression is different and more severe than the typical fluctuations in moods or brief emotional response to everyday challenges that people experience. At the worst depression can even lead to suicide.

Before continuing we do need to mention that anyone reading this who is having thoughts of harming themselves should please talk to someone. It can be a professional, a friend, or even a stranger, but don’t suffer alone. If you feel comfortable talking on the phone you can call the suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Alternatively you can go online and chat with them on their website.

When you move away from everything and everyone that’s familiar to you it is emotionally challenging. Sometimes people need help coping with relocation depression after moving to a new state, and the associated changes and emotional upheaval that move brings.

For those who are battling post move depression or simply having a hard time readjusting after your move, the following information and resources may help you sidestep depression after moving and get back a sense of normalcy

What triggers or causes moving depression?

A study done by Martijn Hendriks, Kai Ludwigs, and Ruut Veenhoven has suggested that moving creates unhappiness among individuals in a number of ways. Moving creates loneliness in many because family and friends aren’t close by, yet you feel too exhausted and stressed to go out to socialize or to encounter situations outside your normal comfort zone. And the worse you feel, the less likely you are to engage in activities that could create happiness. It’s a downward spiral that can sap your energy and motivation that’s made worse by a lack of human interactions to snap you out of the funk.

Other studies done in Australia found that as many as 50% of all movers regret their decision to move. And the 2015 study by Hendriks, Ludwigs, and Veenhoven indicates movers have more unhappy days than those who stay put. “Migrants may not get the best out of migration,” write Hendriks, Ludwigs, and Veenhoven.

Signs of post-move depression

Below are some of the commonly reported negative symptoms of moving depression.

  • No interest or pleasure in usual daily activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Disrupted sleep patterns with either insomnia or excessive sleep
  • An inability or difficulty concentrating
  • Getting angry quicker in normal daily situations
  • Increased in alcohol and/or drug usage
  • Excessive time scrolling through social media or watching television

Understand that change can be hard

Even small changes can sometimes be difficult to cope with. And moving is no small change. There are a large number of breaks in routine involved with moving, and all of them need to be processed and worked out in our heads.

Added to that is the stress and anxiety that can be caused by encountering new people and places. Good planning can help to overcome this anxiety and stress, so we have an idea of what to expect and have someone we can talk to that helps us process the changes we’re going through. Other things we can do to help us weather the stresses and anxiety of change include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating well
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a routine

How to cope with depression after a move

No matter how well we prepare for it, moving is hard. Anyone who is in the midst of a move or recovering from a recent move knows this intimately. And it’s totally normal.

That doesn’t mean you simply have to accept moving depression, though. Instead, you should be making choices that increase your well-being and happiness in your new locale, like fostering something called place attachment.

Place attachment is the feeling that you belong in a place you’re familiar with, and how this contributes to your overall well-being. Place attachment is created through our actions and behaviors and as it increases over time our happiness in that location increases as well. It just takes time. Some people may take as long as five years to maximize their place attachment after a move, but your actions each day contribute to that timeline. Here are some things that can increase place attachment and help you cope with any depression after moving:

  • Get outside your house and explore your new town or city. You might be tempted to cocoon yourself inside, but the unpacking will still be there when you get back. Plus, walking is a good form of exercise, and you might find some new shops and restaurants to increase your happiness in the new location.
  • Meet some new people and try some new things. Yes there’s a lot going on, but making some new friends can give you a sense of connection to your new home.
  • Do the things that made you happy in your old home. If you played pick-up basketball every weekend at home, find a place where you can do that in your new town. It might take time, but it will be well worth it for the sense of enjoyment and the new connections you’ll likely make.
  • Reach out to your friends and family from your old home and stay connected. They might be physically distant, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep them emotionally distant.
  • In a slight contradiction to the first recommendation, spend some time settling in to your new home and becoming comfortable. Make it your space and enjoy your time there.

Wellness resources for post-move depression

If you are suffering from some degree of relocation depression you can rest easier knowing there are a large number of resources you can tap into, both physically in person and online. You’ll find there are support groups, tools, and apps all designed to help you increase your happiness and well-being. Some of these are highlighted in the sections below.

Support Groups

Support groups are an excellent resource because they bring together people with a common interest who are more likely to understand each other, and therefore be able to assist in resolving whatever issues might be troubling you. Most locations will have support groups, either in-person or online, that you can tap into. There are a number of benefits to support groups which include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
  • Reducing distress, depression, or fatigue
  • Providing an outlet for stress and anxiety

One excellent resource for locating support groups is Mental Health America (MHA), the leading community-based nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to addressing the needs of those suffering from mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of the communities they serve. The MHA guides its work by the principle of treating mental health problems before they reach critical stages. They work for the prevention of mental health issues by identifying symptoms and developing a plan of action that halts and hopefully reverses the mental health issues before they become critical. They do this primarily through three channels:

  1. Education and Outreach
  2. Public Policy
  3. Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services

Mental health apps

If you’re struggling to contain your moving depression on your own, but can’t afford traditional therapy, try a mental health app. Recent years have seen the number and quality of apps designed to help with mental health grow exponentially. In many cases these apps are free, or at least reasonably priced, and they offer up a wealth of therapeutic techniques and resources in a cost-effective, portable, and accessible manner.

It’s true that most of these apps haven’t been peer-reviewed to support their claims, but mental health experts are still forecasting these tools are going to play an increasingly important role in the future of mental health by providing users with innovative self-management tools designed to assist with depression and a host of other mental health issues.

Leading addiction psychologist Sal Raichbach, PsyD, LCSW of the Ambrosia Treatment Center believes the mental health apps available are the future of mental health by removing the barriers to treatment to reach the most people in need. Below are four free mental health apps that could be helpful for those suffering from relocation depression:

What’s Up – This free general mental health app uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) methods that assist in coping with depression, anxiety, stress, and more. Available for both iOS and Android.

Happify – This app provides users with a psychologist-approved mood-training program, that is designed to deliver a good mood. It contains a number of engaging games, activity suggestions, gratitude prompts and more which are designed to overcome negative thoughts and to train your brain to find the positive in everyday situations. Available for both iOS and Android.

MoodTools – MoodTools was created to support people with clinical depression by aiding in their path to recovery. It includes helpful videos designed to improve your mood and behavior, as well as methods to log and analyze your thoughts using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles. Available for both iOS and Android.

MindShift – This mental health app was designed specifically for teens and young adults with anxiety, but it can also prove beneficial in combating relocation depression. Mind Shift stresses the importance of changing how you think about anxiety, rather than simply giving you a way to avoid anxiety. The app encourages you to take charge of your life, while learning how to ride out intense emotions, and face challenging situations. Available for both iOS and Android.

Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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