Life According To Lenson
Taking The Stress Out Of Moving
By Eileen Lenson
Jul 1, 2012 - 7:30:27 AM

BEVERLY HILLSWe are frequently moving. The circumstances vary, from political refugee, to corporate relocation, to housing bust victims. Despite the reason behind the change, the stress of moving can be experienced by anyone moving to a new community.


The amount of stress experienced can depend on the motivation for a move. If spouses are moving because one is accommodating the other's corporate relocation, the experiences will be different. One has the support of the company, along with a ready made social network, and challenging new experiences. At the same time, the partner's needs may not be met, resulting in greater vulnerability to stress.

When offered an exciting career promotion, requiring a relocation from Los Angeles to Portland Oregon, Mr. Stenger readily accepted the new position, anticipating greater opportunities and happiness for his wife and three young children. Engrossed in the challenges of his new job, Mr. Stenger did not notice that it rained two out of every three days during the lengthy rainy season. However, Mrs. Stenger became increasingly isolated, depressed and angry with each passing week. By the end of the first month, she was referring to Portland as Portpuddle. The children, picking up on their mother's bitterness, started acting out. The oldest child started fighting with his siblings, the middle child's grades dropped at school, and the youngest began experiencing nightmares.

The changes in social relationships, work settings and support systems make moving one of life's greatest sources of stress. Mrs. Stenger had moved once as a child, following her parents' divorce. An unhappy experience, she learned to associate moving with loss and stress. Her anxiety regarding the move to Portland was influenced from her past unhappy experience. Unfortunately, she had not developed the coping skills and healthy perspective about moving that would have facilitated a successful move to Portland.

Regardless of one's past experiences, moving can progress positively if the following issues are considered:

Develop New Coping Skills: When moving, plan for a period of readjustment. Coping skills formerly used may not be applicable in the new home. For instance, if you used to walk along the beach as a stress reducer when you lived in California, you will need to develop new coping skills if relocating to Kansas.

Develop New Social Connections:  Personal connections with others provides a buffer against life stresses. Anyone undergoing a move understands the value of receiving emotional support from a caring person.  The social networking sites help maintain close and meaningful relationships. But to fully adjust to the move, new connections must be developed. It is a slow process, and can take months to develop meaningful relationships in a new community. Initiate contacts rather than waiting for them to reach out to you. Let people know you want to connect with them. If you have children, volunteer at their schools or sport groups. Connect with colleagues from work. Get involved in your synagogue or church. Initial loneliness can be tempered with acceptance that the process of developing new relationships will take several months.  

Accept Your Feelings:  Moving from one area to another is typically linked to emotional feelings include sadness, anger or depression. It can also be experienced physically, including headaches, stomach upset, edginess and fatigue. These feelings are real and valid, and it is important to accept them. Not doing so can result in self medicating with alcohol, or increased stress with one’s spouse or children.

Grieve Your Losses:  It takes time to build memories and familiar relationships in the new environment. Until such time, the new home likely feels more like a house than a home. It is common to grieve losses during this transitional period.

Spend some time reflecting on the positives from your former home.  Grieving your losses is better than to denying your feelings. Separating from the familiar is difficult, and if you don't properly grieve the losses, you may act it out.

Help the children say good-bye to their former home and do not minimize their concerns. Have a good-bye party. Encourage computer contact, phone calls and visits to their former friends.

Think about what you miss the most from your former community and see how you can go about getting those needs met. You will then be emotionally available to throw yourself purposefully into integrating into the new community.

Be Aware Of Cultural Factors: The receptiveness you receive from the community will help in establishing roots for your family. It can be painful moving into a community that is the polar opposite from the one in which you previously lived.

Claudia: "I thought I'd never adjust those first few months in Iowa.  What a culture clash!  Born and raised in Los Angeles, I thrived on the intensity and variety of the restaurants, cutting-edge everything, beaches and always having new people to meet. At first I felt bored and excluded in my new Iowa community. They are less mobile, and have extended families to spend time with on holidays, evenings. I didn't feel accepted. I was incredibly lonely and bored. For me, it grew into a personal crisis resulting in more unhappiness than I have ever previously felt."

By determining how to tap into the community to develop personal connections, Claudia was able to develop new traditions and rituals important in preserving her confidence and feelings of self worth. Now instead of shopping the malls, she participates in teaching a youth theatre class in church. This activity led to relationship-building with church families, who in turn started inviting her to join their extended families in barbeques. "I really felt I'd made the transition to Iowa when a family I know invited me to join them for Thanksgiving dinner."

Exercise:  It is easy to give up exercise because there are so many chores, boxes to unpack and arrangements to be made. Exercise is important during these times. Stress is reduced by exercise by reducing the body's feel good chemicals and reducing pent up energy.

Talk And Listen:  Talking and listening to each family member, and encouraging open discussions will help with the adjustment. By identifying everyone's concerns, the family  learns how to pull together and help out each other during this period of change.

Share information about the move with children based on their age and maturity level. Younger children benefit from information being provided in bite-sized amounts. This helps prevent their becoming overloaded. Focus on the positive aspects of the move. Empower them, by letting them know what control they can have over the move, such as decorating their room, or getting a family pet. Give understandable information about the move that won't burden or worry them. Walk the youngest children, hand in hand, through the house, describing each room for them, and in particular, show them where each of your bedrooms will be, where the kitchen table will be placed, etc. Encourage questions.

Encourage the younger children to draw pictures of their new home or bedroom and ask them to discuss their drawings. Their words will let you know if they have uncertainties that need to be addressed.

While it is human nature to fear the unknown accompanying moves, it is also human nature to thrive on change.

Claudia's comments about her move reflects the personal growth that can result from stepping out of one's comfort zone: "I don't know where I'll end up living in the future. But my two dramatically different geographical and cultural experiences has taught me so much about myself, and helped me reevaluate my values. I now believe that the answer for happiness is not based on where I am living, but what I am doing to make my home a success."

Client names were changed in this article to protect privacy.


Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW is a Board Certified Coach in private practice.  For inquiries about telephone or office sessions, email her at or visit her website at

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