Anyone who’s ever undertaken a house move will agree it’s one of the most challenging life events, both physically and emotionally, that anyone can go through.
In a recent poll, two thirds of people voted moving house top of their stress list, with it triggering more anxiety than relationship breakdowns, divorce and starting a new job.
“It’s one of life’s most stressful experiences, and it’s because it involves having to cope with change,” explains Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of charity Anxiety UK. “Moving house represents a transition in life, it’s about change and unfamiliarity and for many people that causes stress and anxiety. Most of us like familiarity, routine and order. When you’re moving, you have none of those. Plus it causes a ripple effect of change throughout your life. You’re not just changing your home and getting to know the new one, you might be in a new area, you have to find new schools for your children, take on a new commute to work, find a new GP and dentist.”
She says that if you feel stressed or anxious, that’s perfectly normal. “It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s an understandable reaction,” says Ms Lidbetter. “The lack of order, the uncertainty and upheaval that surrounds a move can trigger underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety, OCD and depression.”
“Take time off work and get someone to mind your children”
Dr Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, agrees. “Moving house can be a very overwhelming experience,” she says. “It’s a massive upheaval, and we are inherently territorial creatures who like familiarity and routine, so it creates a lot of uncertainty and chaos in our lives.”
Moving can put a particular strain on families and relationships – the latter of which is the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 16-22 May. TV personality Trisha Goddard, a family resolution and mental health activist, knows the stresses all too well. “Not only have I moved house with little ones, I’ve also moved from one continent to another,” she says. “Parents always feel guilt at moving kids from their friends and home – but one thing you cannot afford to do is ignore the potential impact moving will have on you.”
Ms Lidbetter of Anxiety UK advises giving yourself as much time as possible to deal with the move. “If you can, clear your schedule around the time of a move,” she says. “Take time off work and get someone to mind your children, so you are not spreading yourself too thin.”
Preparation can also help in managing stress levels. “If you can do things in advance, for example, switch your broadband to the new address, register with a new GP in the area, plan in advance what furniture and items will go in what rooms… all of that will help the actual day feel a bit less overwhelming and more controlled.”
As hard as it might feel at the time, try to focus on the positives of what you’re doing. “Embrace the change instead of focusing on the difficulty of a move,” says Ms Lidbetter.
“Although there might be a lot to do, taking an occasional break is key”
Dr Mann advises remembering why you made the decision. “Perhaps you’re moving to a bigger house, or to a beautiful area, nearer friends and family,” she says. “Remind yourself why it will be worth all the effort you are putting in.”
During a stressful time, both Ms Lidbetter and Dr Mann agree that looking after yourself is key. “Get enough sleep and eat well. Don’t be too busy to look after yourself,” says Ms Lidbetter. And although there might be a lot to do, try and take an occasional break, too. “Respite is essential,” says Dr Mann. “Whether that’s going for a walk, a trip to the cinema, meeting up with a friend… it doesn’t matter what you do as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with your house move. Your mind and body need a break.”
Some simple breathing exercises can help you feel calmer, says Dr Mann. “Find a quiet corner, and sit, stand or lie down. Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of five, then slowly exhale for five. Do this for up to five minutes, clearing your mind and focusing on feeling calm and revived.”
Anxiety UK advocates using mindfulness techniques to help deal with stress and anxiety. “Download the Headspace mindfulness app and just ten minutes a day, away from the move, can be beneficial,” says Nicky Lidbetter.
However, she says if you start to experience symptoms such as mood swings, a racing heart and sweaty palms, and an inability to concentrate, these are signs that you may need to seek professional help to deal with your stress and anxiety levels perhaps by seeing a psychologist or a counsellor.
The important thing to remember is that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. “Moving is listed as a major life stressor for a good reason,” says Ms Goddard. “Be kind to yourself and realise that sleepless nights and worry before and after a move are normal. Accept all help offered: it’s not a slight on your organising capabilities. And if folk offer to help, give them something concrete to do; a proper task that you can cross off your list. And if people are slow to offer help, damned well ask for it.”