How to cope with the stress of moving house
Having had to move house more than a dozen times in my life, I often wondered what it is about house moves that makes them so stressful. It seems that the physical exhaustion or the logistical exercise it involves doesn’t quite justify how anxiety-provoking it can be.
After working with a large number of expats as a psychotherapist in London, I realised that most people struggle with the changes that moving houses imply, and for many of my clients the house move comes along with a lot of other changes (moving jobs or even countries). So, undoubtedly, anticipatory anxiety about the unknown creeps up - will the move go smoothly? Will the new job be as expected? Will I make friends in the new neighbourhood? Will my new manager like me? How will my children adapt to the new school?
Of course. moves often involve exciting new beginnings and changes, but alongside there might be some (often unconscious) negative feelings. So when we begin to find the anxiety overwhelming, we need to ask ourselves - what is getting in the way? Which negative feelings we struggle with is very personal, and it stems from emotions triggered by our past experiences. The answer is not in the present, but in how the present links to the past.
For example, there are people whose childhood was filled with uncertainty, so a move triggers memories of insecurity and anxiety about the unknown. There are also those who grew up with a sense that they didn’t belong, and any change evokes that fear that they will, once again, feel like they don’t fit in. For others, a house move will unconsciously be linked to endings, and unearth memories of previous endings that might have been painful. What I found over and over again is that, when clients or I have struggled with a move, it’s because it’s opened up an old wound.
Those in relationships might find that moving houses sparks off conflicts with their partners. We all cope with changes in different ways, and this may be difficult to hold in mind when we see our partner making choices or dealing with circumstances differently to us. Of course, the hardship is exacerbated if moving means making a relationship long-distance, or it implies a greater sacrifice for one partner over the other.
What can one do to make a house move a more enjoyable event?
- See the move as an opportunity -if your experience with change in the past has not been positive, remember that history does not have to repeat itself. The way you approach the move is entirely up to you. Ask yourself what you can do differently to set this up for success. What have you learnt from your past experiences? Believe that this time can be different.
- Set achievable objectives - a house move can be an enormous logistical exercise. Be organised but don’t set unrealistic goals with regards to what you will achieve by when, and make sure you set out enough time to get everything done (even if that means asking for time off work).
- Keep an eye on the goal - when the anxiety creeps up, remember what your efforts will accomplish. Picture yourself in the new place with the benefits that this will have brought to you, and try to hold on to the positive feelings that envisioning this evokes.
- Open up - sometimes trying to 'be tough' to face a challenge ends up backfiring. Ignoring that we need support, rather than reaching out for it, can make us feel increasingly more vulnerable. Even if it at times it is hard to admit that a situation is proving to be harder than expected, it is helpful to open up about it with whomever it is that you feel safe speaking to.
- Ask for help - if speaking to loved ones is not helping enough, and things are still feeling overwhelming, then what stops you from asking for professional help? Yes, you could just 'power through' and get it done without 'thinking too much', but if you block out (repress) your feelings about the experience, you are not just protecting yourself from the pain - you are also inhibiting your ability to actually enjoy the experience.
So the trick to enjoying the excitement that comes with a new beginning is to find a way to face the fears, and manage the anxieties that it has brought up for us.
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