It’s that time of year again. All over Oak Park and surrounding towns, I’m seeing oversized vans outfitted with ramps and crews of workers toting everything from shrink-wrapped couches and bookcases to kids’ bikes and toys.
Just the sight of it fills me with anxiety, as I think back to our family’s last move – a challenge, to say the least – and recent conversations I’ve had with clients who are struggling to adapt to their new homes.
Moving is tough at any age. Many psychological studies place it high on the list of stressful life events, ranking right up there with changing jobs or starting a new relationship. Even when we’re looking forward to living somewhere new, the experience can leave us feeling tired, disoriented and sad as we feel the loss of comfortable old settings and habits.
Why is moving so hard on us?
To understand why relocating can feel so traumatic, we need to look at its impact on all levels of our lives, advises the popular Move Matcher blog.
Financial. Moving is expensive. There are major one-time costs involved in closing a real estate deal or signing a new lease. We also have to pay movers, deal with repairs and buy new furnishings when our old ones don’t fit. The stress of applying for a loan can be significant, too. If the cost of our new place is higher than we’d hoped, there may be a period of worry while we adjust to the decision we’ve made.
Emotional. Moving literally takes us out of our comfort zone. We’re used to our current home and neighborhood with its shops, hair salons and coffee joints. There will be moments of disorientation when we don’t automatically know where the light switches are or can’t remember the way to the “new” post office. If a move comes as part of a death, divorce or job change, this will greatly amplify the emotional impact.
Practical. Relocating means dealing with hundreds of details, and we’re bound to feel irritable when we misplace an important box, run out of packing tape or find that the movers have broken something. Even when things go relatively smoothly, the sheer work of packing, unpacking and getting utilities set up in your new place is huge. While you’re in the thick of it, you may feel there’s almost no time for relaxation, which can cause its own set of issues if sleep and exercise routines are disrupted.
The impact on seniors is even greater
An insightful article in the Huffington Post notes that, for seniors, moving isn’t simply about moving. For most, it signals the end of an era as they struggle to let go of a lifetime of memories associated with their homes. The idea of sorting through possessions they have acquired over decades may seem so daunting that seniors put off moving much longer than they should – and when they finally take the plunge, they may lack the resilience needed to make the transition with ease.
Seniors may also associate moving with a loss of control, especially if they are heading for assisted living or nursing home facilities. It may feel like the latest loss in a series of losses that trigger grief and disorientation. In fact, therapists and social workers recognize elder transfer trauma as a significant psychological challenge for older adults.
Fortunately, there are resources that can make moving less stressful for older adults. The National Association of Senior Move Managers can connect seniors and their families with one of 800 agencies nationwide who focus on the unique challenges of moving later in life.
If you are an adult caregiver managing the move of a loved one, you will find a wealth of wisdom on the AARP website, including this helpful article.
Tips to reduce relocation stress
- Leave a little “sanctuary” area in your house or apartment that doesn’t get packed until the last minute. This might include a cozy chair, a side table and a favorite book where you can relax.
- Make time for regular exercise. Even a 15-minute walk can help refresh you and take the edge off your anxieties.
- Expect to be crabby. Don’t make things worse by beating yourself up because you’re not in a good mood all the time.
- Accept help. When people offer to deliver meals or walk the dog, say “yes” cheerfully – and realize how lucky you are to have their support.
- Make a list of all the fun things you’re going to do in your new home. When you’re feeling spent, pull it out and enjoy looking ahead.
- Practice self-compassion. This is a busy time and you’re going through a lot. Be kind to yourself and remember you’re doing the best you can.
Finding support to ease you through the transition
As a therapist working with adults of all ages in Oak Park, I am here for you and your family. The pressures of moving can trigger significant stress – and being able to talk over the various issues can lead to helpful solutions and perspectives. Reach out to me anytime to schedule a private appointment for yourself or a loved one.