This year, I rang in the New Year alone, talking to my husband on the phone thousands of miles away. I was in a new state anxiously anticipating the start of a new job and trying to form hazy opinions of the new town that was now home. While everyone talked on social media about how many changes they had made in the past decade, I couldn’t help but feel both a little proud and a little scared that I was starting 2020, the beginning of a new decade, in a new state.
In December 2019, I was offered a job in Montana and I accepted it. I had been applying to jobs since that August, and thirty-two job applications later, the thirty-third try was the charm. I had about three weeks to pack my bags and move to Helena, Montana, leaving my poor husband to pack the boxes and bags that I didn’t have time for.
Moving brings with it a lot of anxiety–especially if you’ve never been to the place before! As someone who’s dealt with anxiety for years, and just dealt with the stress of moving, here are some tips that I believe will help you with the anxiety of undertaking such a huge life change.
1. Be secure in your choice. This is a biggie. If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me I’m crazy for “leaving paradise” and moving to Montana, I’d be able to go out tomorrow and have myself a very nice lunch. I’ve heard proclamations of my questionable sanity when showing my Hawai‘i ID at the store and even when just chatting with a stranger. And I’m sure I’ll hear it dozens of times more.
But here’s the thing–only YOU can decide how YOU are going to live your life. People are going to judge because they don’t know YOUR unique situation and what you did or didn’t have in your last hometown. And people operate under stereotypes. They might think you’re lucky leaving such-and-such a place since it’s the most boring place on earth, or think that living in Hawai‘i means you can afford a beachfront house and drink margaritas all day. There are lots of stereotypes people might believe! People don’t know that Hawai’i was too expensive or that I wasn’t totally happy with my life there. When you are in a new, unfamiliar place, you have to remind yourself WHY you moved and WHY this is the best choice for YOU. Or recognize, if the choice wasn’t up that you, that the situation was out of your hands and is temporary.
Sometimes, these people claiming I’m crazy make me doubt myself, but usually I am secure knowing that my husband and I made the best choice for our life and that is why we left Hawai‘i, paradise or not.
2. Find something familiar and try to find a new routine. Starting a new job is stressful. Moving is stressful. Buying a new car or finding a new apartment are stressful. But doing all four while living out of a suitcase, having all these applications badly dinging up your credit rating, and adjusting to a new place, while being told you’re crazy for moving? That is unbelievably stressful!
I soon found one of the things that eventually helped my anxiety was trying to find some familiar things I loved and to start developing a routine. Did it mean sometimes buying lattes or eating out when I should have been saving money? Yes. But was it worth it? Yes again! Little things like eating out either helped me appreciate the new place I was or helped comfort me with familiarity, and also felt like little rewards to help me cope with the stress and anxiety.
And although I failed with keeping a consistent bedtime or strong routine, the more I settled down with rituals like going to bed or watching a TV show I love after work or relaxing at home on Sundays, the more it returned some sense of normalcy to my life. Find small ways to make your new town and new life feel more familiar
3. Find a Role Model. All my life, I was told that if I left Hawai‘i, I would “never be able to come back.” I was raised with the fear of the mainland and the idea that due to how expensive Hawai‘i is, I’d be stuck on the mainland because I’d never be able to afford to return. I was fed the idea that one day I’d return home with my tail between my legs and need to live with family while trying to get my feet back on the ground, since I’m doomed to make the same mistakes others have made. The mainland was painted as a cruel, dark place filled with cold, extra expenses, and terrible people.
But here’s the funny thing–I started having an open mind and seeing what other people I knew accomplished. One coworker and her boyfriend had moved from the continental United States to Hawai’i, and they lived on the beach initially to save money. Some acquaintances moved from Hawai‘i to the Continental United States, and even if they moved to expensive cities on the West Coast, they didn’t end up homeless–and even still got to eat out and buy booze! My roommates moved to a more expensive Hawaiian island and still were able to eat out and found successful jobs.
But what helped the most was seeing my closest friends move away right before I did. All three of my bridesmaids moved away and that helped give me the courage to continue my job hunt and move away. One friend moved from Hawai‘i back to the East Coast, and since she is one of the coolest people I know that also really kicks ass, she found a job, apartment, and car in less than a week and only had about a week longer than I did to pack and move away. Another friend moved to Germany and is in the process of learning a new language and becoming an expat. And lastly, a friend I never imagined leaving Hawaii took a leap of faith to move to Kansas and when that didn’t work, she found an alternate plan and relocated to be with family in Alabama.
If there is a will, there is a way. So find your will to move, and find strong role models who you can ask for advice or who you can look at and say, “Wow, they did it, and if they can do it, so can I!”
4. Find time for self-care. Last week I had a glorious afternoon–I lounged around in comfortable PJs, forced myself not to do any organizing or think about the stuff I hadn’t done, slathered on a face mask, took a long shower while using a shower bomb, and sipped on some sparkling water while watching a new show I was obsessed with. While you probably can’t afford to do something like this every day, just finding a day to relax and care for yourself is so crucial when dealing with the stress of moving. Try to get out of your head and reward yourself for all you’ve accomplished–which ties into my next tip!
5. Stop being so hard on yourself! My anxiety and what I assume is OCD, as well as my upbringing and germophobia, have made me be hypercritical of everyone and everything. But the one I am the hardest on is myself. I’m trying to become a less judgmental and easy-going person, but I know it’s going to take years of hard work to reverse years of damaging and limiting beliefs. I mentally beat myself up all the time.
Moving and adjusting to a new place is a process that will be wrought with mistakes. I’ve twice driven into a lane of what would have been oncoming traffic because Helena has a terrible five-way intersection. I’ve taken the wrong turns on the freeway. I’ve locked myself out of my office twice. I’ve left a bag at a restaurant and had to go back for it the next day. I yelled at myself in the car one night trying to scare myself into remembering the four-way stop sign I have trouble remembering on the way home. As I’m sure you’d assume, I’ve been hard on myself about all of these mistakes
But you know what? You–and I–need to remember how much we’re accomplishing. You and I are doing what some people never do–moving to a new place and taking a huge leap of faith. Making a life change that is never easy or pretty. Remind yourself that it takes incredible courage to move away and to make life changes, regardless of whether you’re moving to a new country and learning a new language like some of my friends, or whether you’re moving a shorter distance in your own country.
6. Be willing to ask for and accept help. I have a lot of trouble asking for and accepting help because I hate being a burden to others. But sometimes people want to help and if they don’t, the worst they can do is say no. One of my new colleagues helped me move a huge bookcase I bought off of Craigslist, and also dropped off medicine twice when I got the flu within the first month after moving. A stranger on Facebook and his wife met with me to give me tips about where to move in town and how to find an apartment.
Not only did I have to be willing to ask for and accept help, but I also got to see that there are good people in the world and that helps me with wanting to be a better and more generous person. Try to see if anyone will help–you might just be able to get the help that you need since we can’t do everything alone.
7. Sometimes, you need to force yourself to do stuff. My anxiety sometimes keeps me from taking care of myself or doing things like unpacking. My new apartment started getting messy and I didn’t unpack for a month. So I finally forced myself to unpack my suitcases and put some of my groceries away. Just small organizational changes can help you feel more organized and make your place feel like home. Forcing yourself to do stuff isn’t always easy, but it can make the world of difference in the long run.
8. Finally, research practical advice. Find out from friends or articles the best ways to move and start small. Collect all your important documents and jewelry to keep with you in your backpack at all times. Make lists and label your boxes so you know what is in each box. Choose the outfits you pack wisely. Notify your bank you’re moving so your card won’t be temporarily deactivated when you use it in your new city. All of these little things can help you feel more in control and organized, and they will allow for a smoother transition when life gets crazy.
9. Know your plan B. The fear of the unknown is what always gets to me, and is something a lot of people struggle with. I know some people want me to fail, and I’m afraid of failure. What if I get fired? What if I can’t afford living in X place? What if I can’t pay my bills?
Well–what if? Imagine the worst happening and come up with a back-up plan. Whether it would be living with a relative for a few weeks or working a minimum wage job and eating ramen for a couple of months, with determination, a cool head, and a good attitude, it’s more likely than not that even if the worst happens, you’ll be able to persevere and make it.
10. See a Therapist and Find Additional Coping Mechanisms. If all your strategies fail, it’s always good to consider seeing a therapist, even if it’s just temporarily. I was very tempted to return to therapy during my first month of moving, but eventually I managed to get my anxiety down to an acceptable level. Some other coping mechanisms that I need to resume doing are meditation and writing in my diary and bullet journal. Some people find music, yoga, or exercise as a great stress relief as well.
I sincerely hope that these tips will help you with the stress and anxiety of moving. I’m also very excited to announce that, due to high interest in this topic, I have teamed up with some blogging and Instagram friends to create a mini-series on dealing with the stress and anxiety of moving! In a few weeks, you’ll get to hear from my friends on their guest posts as they discuss the highs and lows of moving to both domestic and international locations.
It is my hope that my story or one of their stories in this upcoming miniseries will resonate with you and give you the courage you need to move. These stories should help you develop enough tools to cope with the stress of moving and see that with determination anything is possible.
And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, you will find a role model to look up to as you embark or cope with the huge life change called moving away.