Coping With Relocation October 25, 2023

Is Moving Traumatic? How to Cope With Relocation Stress

Hannah Michaelson

Hannah is a freelance relocation writer from NYC that has become an expert on packing and unpacking.

Relocating to a new place can be both exciting and overwhelming. For many, the process brings a mix of anticipation and anxiety as they leave behind familiar surroundings and step into the unknown. But is moving traumatic in the full sense of the word? Unpacking the emotional and psychological impact of relocation, this article offers insights and strategies to navigate the challenges of change and ease the stress associated with starting anew abroad.

Relocating can often be emotionally traumatic, as it comes with a lot of emotional weight, changes, and leaving behind the known. It can be especially tough on some groups like kids, seniors, and even pets. There are physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that can occur when relocating. People often seek professional help or explore practical tips for managing stress, which include good planning and hiring reputable movers.

Is Moving Traumatic? What’s the Emotional Weight of Moving Internationally?

Moving overseas isn’t just about filling boxes – it’s also about packing memories, emotions, and sometimes even unresolved feelings and bringing them to a new home. The psychological impact of relocating varies from person to person. For some, living overseas can be a refreshing start, while for others, it might feel like uprooting their very existence. The depth of emotional turmoil, often underplayed in the face of logistical challenges and worry about relocating safely, is profound and deserves attention.

Change and Uncertainty – People Feel Vulnerable When Faced With the Unknown

Humans are creatures of habit. We find comfort in routine, familiarity, and predictability. Relocating disrupts this status quo, thrusting us into an atmosphere of change and uncertainty. Whether it’s the ambiguity of a new city and country, starting a job, or simply dealing with culture shock, this uncertainty can trigger feelings of vulnerability. The unknown aspects of our new environment often evoke anxiety, making us question our reasons for relocating, even if the move was voluntary or eagerly anticipated.

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Leaving Behind the Familiar Can Trigger a Deep Sense of Loss

There’s weight in leaving behind known landscapes, beloved hangout spots, and, most importantly, cherished relationships. The emotional tether to our old environment can sometimes overshadow the excitement of a new one. Saying goodbye to neighbors and relocating far away from friends and routines can evoke a deep sense of loss. This grief, sometimes similar to mourning, comes from the realization that certain chapters of our lives are closing, making way for new stories yet to be written.

The Stress of Relocation Logistics

Beyond the emotional upheaval, the sheer logistics of relocating can be incredibly stressful. Coordinating movers from an international moving company, ensuring the safety of valuables and fragile items, setting up new utilities, and adjusting to a new country and different living space all pose their unique challenges.

The physical act of packing can be a difficult process, dredging up old memories and forcing decisions about what to keep and what to part with. The logistical relocation stress compounds the emotional strain, making it crucial to approach relocation with a balanced perspective and, if possible, seek support to ease the transition.

Girl sitting between cardboard containers
Relocation to a new country comes with complex emotions

Is Moving Especially Traumatic for Certain Groups?

While relocation abroad can be a challenging experience for many, certain groups may find it particularly traumatic due to their specific needs and vulnerabilities. The emotional and psychological weight of relocating can be significantly more intense for these groups, requiring attention and care during the transition.

Children and Adolescents Often Find Relocations Difficult

Is moving traumatic for kids? For children and teenagers, a move isn’t just about changing homes. It’s about leaving behind friends, schools, and the comfort of a known environment. The formative years are marked by a search for identity, belonging, and stability.

Uprooting during this crucial time can lead to feelings of dislocation and insecurity. Adolescents, especially, might resent the change, as their social circle and peer relationships play a pivotal role in their lives. They may have to grapple with the challenges of making friends abroad and adjusting to a different academic environment, which can be both intimidating and distressing.

Seniors Struggle With Leaving Memories Behind

Is moving traumatic for adults of older age? For the elderly, a move abroad often signifies more than just a change of address. It could mean downsizing from a family home filled with memories or transitioning to assisted living or a care facility. The loss of independence, coupled with the emotional toll of leaving behind a beloved home, can be devastating. Additionally, the stress and anxiety about moving can be more taxing for seniors, who might be dealing with health concerns or reduced mobility.

Pets Need Routines – They Are Very Sensitive to Changes

Often overlooked in discussions about relocation trauma, pets also undergo stress during relocations. Animals are sensitive to changes in their environment and routine. The unfamiliar sounds, sights, and smells of a new home can be disorienting for them. They might also pick up on the stress of their owners, amplifying their anxiety. An abrupt change can lead to behavioral issues and signs of distress in pets.

Dog in a suitcase
Pets are often overlooked in this discussion, but they find relocations hard as well

Recognizing the Signs of Relocation Stress Is Crucial

Relocating across the world can stir a mix of emotions, and the stress associated with such a significant change often manifests in various tangible and intangible ways. Recognizing these signs is the first step toward managing and alleviating the pressure, ensuring that individuals and families navigate this transition healthily.

Physical Symptoms of Stress Can Be Quite Obvious

Symptoms of stress can be quite apparent. Persistent fatigue may set in even with adequate rest. Sleep patterns might be disrupted, with individuals experiencing insomnia or its opposite, oversleeping. Digestive issues, ranging from stomach upsets to constipation or diarrhea, might arise. Some might find themselves battling more frequent headaches or migraines. A weakened immune system, resulting from stress, might lead to an increased susceptibility to illnesses. Moreover, tension or pain, especially in areas like the neck, shoulders, or back, might become a regular companion.

Emotional Symptoms Are Even More Severe

Emotionally, the toll can be even deeper. Rapid mood swings might oscillate between feelings of elation, despondency, and frustration. A lowered threshold for patience often results in increased irritability. Prolonged feelings of sadness or even depression may emerge, and anxiety about adapting to new surroundings can become all-consuming. Feelings of being overwhelmed might dominate. As one grapples with these emotions, there’s often an accompanying sense of isolation, particularly when distanced from familiar support systems.

Various Behavioral Changes Can Be Observed

In terms of behavior, stress from relocating can induce noticeable changes. Appetites may fluctuate, with some losing interest in food while others resort to overeating as a form of solace. Procrastination, especially concerning relocation-related tasks, might become more prevalent. Some individuals might increase their reliance on substances like alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine as coping mechanisms. In certain cases, restless energy, marked by an inability to relax or constant fidgeting, can be observed.

stressed woman
From physical symptoms to behavioral ones, relocation stress can be quite obvious

Professional Help – When to Seek It?

Relocating is more than just a physical transition – it can significantly affect one’s mental well-being. While it’s normal to experience some level of stress and emotional upheaval during a move, there are times when these feelings intensify or persist, indicating a need for professional intervention.

Acute Stress Symptoms to Pay Attention To

Acute stress symptoms are intense reactions that might appear shortly after you relocate overseas. These can include severe anxiety, panic attacks, or dissociative reactions where one feels detached from oneself or the surroundings. If someone is experiencing overwhelming fear, confusion, or any symptoms that severely disrupt daily functioning, it’s crucial to seek professional help immediately. These intense reactions might indicate a more profound underlying issue triggered by the changes.

Prolonged Emotional Distress

If sadness, anxiety, or feelings of detachment persist for weeks or months, it could be a sign of a more deep-seated emotional issue. If one finds it challenging to adjust even after a reasonable period, continually feels disconnected, or harbors persistent feelings of hopelessness, it might be beneficial to consult a mental health professional. They can provide coping strategies, therapeutic interventions, or resources to help navigate emotional problems.

depressed, worried woman
Distress can remain for weeks or months - this means professional help is necessary

There Are Many Coping Mechanisms for Relocation Stress

The challenges of relocating, while considerable, can be mitigated through various coping strategies. These mechanisms ease the emotional and psychological strain and can also foster resilience, enabling individuals to embrace change with a balanced perspective.

You Should Try Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Practicing mindfulness is a powerful way to stay grounded during the chaos. By being present in the moment, individuals can acknowledge emotions without being overwhelmed by them. Techniques like deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation can help in managing immediate stress. Additionally, meditation or keeping a journal can help in processing feelings and emotions. Setting aside even just a few minutes daily for these practices can make a notable difference in one’s mental state.

Physical Exercise Is an Excellent Stress Reliever

Engaging in regular exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood elevators. Whether it’s a brisk walk in the new neighborhood, a quick home workout, or a session at the local gym, movement can be therapeutic. Besides the physiological benefits, exercise provides an opportunity to take a break from packing for a relocation, refocus, and recharge, ensuring that the body and mind remain resilient during the relocation process.

Social Support – Don’t Overlook This Coping Mechanism

Connecting with others can be a vital coping mechanism. Sharing feelings and concerns with trusted friends or family members can offer emotional relief and practical insights. For those who’ve moved to entirely new locales, joining community groups or attending local events can be a way to build new connections. Seeking out online forums or support groups for expat communities can also provide solace. Remember, there’s strength in numbers, and leaning on others, be it old friends or new acquaintances, can ease the burdens of relocation.

group of friends
You'll need social support - lean on others to help you get through tough times

Be Sure to Learn Some Practical Tips for a Less Stressful Move

Changing homes, while a significant life event, doesn’t necessarily have to be an overwhelming experience. By taking a few practical steps, one can minimize the strain and ensure an efficient relocation and a smoother transition to the new place.

Good Planning and Organization Are Necessary for a Successful Relocation

One of the primary sources of relocation stress stems from feeling disorganized or rushed. To counteract this, start the preparations early. Make a detailed timeline of tasks leading up to the relocation day. This can include decluttering, packing, and addressing administrative tasks. Using labeled boxes for different rooms or items can streamline the unpacking process. Also, maintain a dedicated folder or digital space for all move-related paperwork, ensuring easy access to important documents when needed.

Hire Reliable Movers to Help You With the Practical Challenges

Entrusting the heavy lifting and logistics to professionals can make a world of difference, especially when relocating far away from home. Moving services can help you more than you can imagine. There are numerous benefits of hiring movers – here are the most important ones:

  • Professionals can provide packing assistance and transport belongings faster and more systematically.
  • They have the equipment and expertise to transport items, reducing the risk of damage or injury.
  • Knowing that the logistical aspects are in capable hands allows you to focus on emotional and personal needs.
  • Most professional moving companies offer insurance, providing coverage for any potential damages.

Reach Out to Schmidt International Relocations for Assistance When Moving Abroad

When the challenge of relocating takes you across borders, Schmidt International Relocations stands as a beacon of support. With our expertise in global transitions, we ease the complexities of international moves. From navigating customs regulations to ensuring your belongings arrive safely, Schmidt’s team is dedicated to providing seamless service. Our vast experience and commitment to customer satisfaction mean you can embark on your overseas journey with confidence and peace of mind. Don’t let the intricacies of international relocation overwhelm you – contact us, and we’ll guide you every step of the way.


Can Moving Ever Be a Positive Experience?

Absolutely! It can be an opportunity for growth, new experiences, and fresh beginnings. While it often comes with challenges, the anticipation of a new environment, meeting new people, and embracing new opportunities can be exhilarating. A positive mindset coupled with adequate preparation can transform the experience from daunting to delightful.

What Are the Best Ways to Prepare Children for a Move?

Open communication is key. Discuss the upcoming changes with your children, explaining the reasons and highlighting the exciting aspects of the new place. Allow them to voice their feelings and concerns. Involving them in the process, like letting them pack their toys or choose the decor for their new room, can make the transition smoother. Also, planning visits or virtual tours of their new school or neighborhood can help familiarize them and reduce anxiety.

How Can Pets Be Helped Through a Move?

Pets thrive on routine. Before the relocation, try to maintain their regular schedule. Familiarize them gradually with the relocation process, maybe by letting them explore moving boxes. On relocation day, keep them in a quiet room away from chaos. Once in the new home, set up their space with familiar toys, bedding, and dishes to comfort them.

How Far in Advance Should I Prepare for a Move to Minimize Stress?

Ideally, start preparations 2-3 months in advance. This allows enough time for decluttering, organizing the process of packing, and planning logistics. Good preparation can turn a rushed process into a manageable timeline.

How Do I Choose a Reliable Moving Company?

Research is essential. Start by reading reviews and asking for recommendations. Ensure the company is licensed and insured. Get multiple quotes and ask about their services, experience, and any hidden charges. A thorough vetting process will ensure you choose a reliable mover and pave the way for a hassle-free experience.

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