With all of the lifestyle changes that come with embracing a new life, depression is a common trip companion. But it can be managed.
Perhaps you had it all planned out. You thought that when you moved to a new town, you’d put yourself out there, find a friend group, fall in love, or absolutely crush it at your new job.
Yet, the reality of relocating to a new place may not be turning out how you expected.
You may find yourself living with symptoms of depression, like a low mood, exhaustion, or feeling hopeless about the future. You may even regret making the move altogether.
If this sounds like you, don’t lose hope. You’re not alone in this. This is a natural and not uncommon reaction to drastic changes.
There are many ways to manage relocation depression and get the support you need.
Yes, it’s real. Developing symptoms of depression after a big move is possible, even if it’s to a new house.
Think about it: Moving to a new place stirs up changes in just about every area of your life, from your routine to your friend group to where you park your car. Even something like finding a new place to do laundry can feel overwhelming.
Wherever you’re at, know upfront that your feelings are valid.
Relocation depression isn’t a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). However, what you feel is real and has an explanation.
Moving depression falls under subtypes of depression, and it can be sparked by:
- fear of the unknown
- feeling lost or isolated
- loss of support network
- difficulty finding new connections
- disruption to your routine
- overwhelming use of your emotional and physical resources
When you first move away, it’s natural to feel sadness and grief about the community, habits, and lifestyle you left behind.
This isn’t the same as depression, though.
Clinical depression is pervasive and persistent, meaning that you’ve experienced symptoms for at least 2 weeks and they’re interfering with multiple aspects of your life, such as work, home, self-image, and relationships.
Depression is likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, though it can be intensified by a major life change, like moving to a new place, according to the
Sadness is a symptom of depression, but it isn’t the only one or the same thing. It often resolves on its own and doesn’t last as long as depression.
Symptoms of depression
As per the DSM-5, symptoms of depression include:
- anxiety or restlessness
- changes to your sleep schedule
- difficulty focusing on responsibilities or self-care
- feeling sad or hopeless most of the time
- irritability or frequent changes in mood
- lack of interest in your hobbies and usual activities
- physical symptoms, like aches or headaches
- shifts in your appetite and eating patterns
- suicidal thoughts or self-harm
If your symptoms of depression are new and you don’t already have a diagnosis of clinical depression, perhaps this is a case of situational depression.
Situational depression is a type of depression that’s specifically caused by your immediate circumstances. It has many similarities to clinical depression, with a few key differences.
|Clinical depression||Situational depression|
|formal symptoms of depression||some symptoms of depression|
|may be long-term||onset is within 3 months of the stressor|
|likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but may intensify with stress (like moving)||likely caused by a specific trigger, like a move, death, financial stress, breakup, or other major life change|
|may be managed with professional support||may go away after you’ve adjusted to the life change, had professional support, or both (usually within 6 months)|
If you’re already living with depression or you’ve persistently experienced your symptoms for more than 2 weeks, there are many ways to find support in your new environment.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Working with a therapist may help lift the weight off your shoulders, create a safe place to vent, and help you develop coping skills to manage your symptoms.
Some NIMH-recommended therapy methods for depression include:
Sometimes, severe symptoms of depression can be addressed by adjusting the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain.
It may be a good idea to work with a health professional to see whether antidepressant medications may be appropriate for your symptoms.
You may find it helpful to see whether the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) offers support groups in your local area. This may allow you to meet with other people who’ve gone through the same challenges and can support you now.
There are many research-backed lifestyle strategies that may help you manage moving depression symptoms.
- getting 7 to 9 hours of
- doing at least 10 minutes of
aerobic exerciseeach day
- practicing a few minutes of meditation every day
spending time in natureas often as possible
- eating mood-boosting foods
- limiting alcohol and drug use
If you’re having a hard time with your move but it’s not quite “depression,” you may start to feel better with some adjustments.
Create ‘anchors’ in your new place
Unless there’s an anchor, a ship will float away from the harbor and out to the open sea, without a clear sense of direction.
A big move can produce a similar sensation.
Often, we don’t realize how much we relied on the small comforts of our old home to keep us tethered and grounded, like seeing familiar faces at the grocery store or taking the same route to work every day.
The sooner you can develop structure and routine in your new community, the better.
Consider these activities:
- Find your grocery store.
- Pick a coffee shop.
- Join a yoga studio or gym.
- Discover a fun dog-walking route.
- Choose a laundromat.
With each new place you find, you’re putting down “anchors” around town.
Stay connected to your loved ones
When you’re at home on a Saturday night because, perhaps, you don’t know where to go in town yet, it may be a good time to reconnect with old friends.
A Zoom date, phone call, or social media chat may go a long way in helping you feel less isolated.
You may also want to ask your social network if they know of anyone in your new area. Perhaps they’d be willing to pass along your contact information or help make an introduction.
You never know — your new workout buddy might be one connection away.
Add to your support network
We’re wired for connection. You may notice that you start to feel more “at home” once you form some new relationships, particularly with other new-in-town folks like you.
Some ideas for meeting people include:
- game nights
- group sports
- activism work
- interest groups
- volunteer projects
- art or language classes
Though the five stages of grief may feel uncomfortable, it’s a natural part of the moving process and the losses you’ve faced. It means that you treasured what you had back home, be it your friends, neighborhood park, or that one restaurant.
Even though it hurts, try not to repress your grief or pretend it isn’t there. Consider giving it time. Try to be gentle with yourself and finding healthy ways to channel that energy to release it.
Some ideas for coping with grief include:
- staying active through exercise or sports
- practicing old or new hobbies
- soothing yourself with self-compassion
- sitting in meditation
- talking with a therapist
- finding a support group
- reading books about grief
- expressing yourself through art
Moving can be a fun adventure. But once the novelty of a new place wears off, you may find yourself living with symptoms of depression.
In this case, try to address it from multiple directions, like finding a therapist to talk to, nurturing your existing relationships, forming new connections, and participating in self-care activities.
You may also find it useful to watch a TED Talk called “Relocation: The Woes, The Grows and Glows” by psychologist Lisl Foss.
In all of this, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. It took a lot of guts to move to a new place, and you took a leap of faith. You’re strong enough to get through this, too.