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Words of Whizdom

Moving for Work Can be Exciting and Challenging, but How Do You Deal with What Comes Next?

Posted on 19th September 2019 by Haylee Burley

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For some of us, the dream career move is to somewhere more low-key and relaxing for work-life balance, for others it’s somewhere more exciting, a big glamorous city and to move up the career ladder.

Some career moves are out of our control, with postings interstate or overseas, long work trips which lead to extended periods of time away from friends and family.

Whichever category you fall into, I am sure most of you have experienced missing family and friends, whether it be you who made the move or your loved ones.

This certainly resonates with me, after a big move last year from Darwin to Canberra (and after moving around a fair bit over the years), I found this move the hardest.  I’m not sure why this was, maybe my son is a bit older and having to move schools? moving to a colder climate (much colder)?  leaving a particularly close group of friends that are like my family? Who knows, maybe a combination of all. 

Whatever it may be, moving or working away from home is hard – and living away from your support network makes it even harder.

Typically, if you do start to feel stressed or uncertain you might feel that admitting to your worries would let others who are excited for you down. Instead, you might choose to suppress your anxiety about the move, and if once you have moved things aren’t as rosy as you’d hoped and you feel low, you might deny that you are overwhelmed.

The problem with denied anxiety and ignored low moods is that they tend to escalate and left unchecked can lead to worse, like depression.

What is it about moving for work and living away from friends and family that can cause depression?

1. It’s a lot of change happening at once.

Change isn’t easy, and it inevitably causes some stress. Even if your thoughts are calm and you feel organised, change can stress out your body, triggering its ‘fight or flight’ response.

2. For new things to begin, some things must end.

Endings tend to cause the mind to look backwards and create a romantic (often unrealistic) view of the past that we then compare to the worst things going on in the present or projected future. Even things we thought we hated can suddenly take on a rosy hue that makes us panic about what is to come.

3. Moving for work means you are walking away from your support system.

Most of us take our support systems for granted. We can be so used to having family, friends and colleagues there for us, who understand us without having to ask questions, we don’t even realise how much support that gives us. Even with Skype and phone calls that trusted connection can feel weakened when you are away, so no wonder you feel a little bereft.

4. You are stuck on a big learning curve.

It can be exhausting both mentally and emotionally to deal first with all the things that need to be done before moving, some of which you might never have had to deal with before (health checks, paperwork, life insurance, the list goes on). When you’ve dealt with all that it’s only to show up in your new home and be met with a learning curve of a new environment with a new culture, food, and climate etc. the list goes on.

5. If moving with a partner, your relationship can be put to the test.

If you move with a partner or friend, you might find that your relationship takes on more stress. Where in your old life you both had your own support networks, now you might only have each other. This can leave one or both of you showing a needy or demanding side that might overwhelm the other.

If the relationship starts to suffer or change it can cause low moods for you and you can lose sight of the fact that it’s quite normal for a relationship to temporarily take stress when moving.

6. You are still stuck with the same old you, to your surprise.

It’s normal to think that if you move, you’ll suddenly be calmer, happier, more adventurous best self. But moving can often trigger your worse self, if only at first. When you put yourself through the stress of change and the vulnerability of living without your support system you might feel edgy, easily triggered, and annoyed with everyone and everything.

So what do you do if this rings true? How can you deal with your low moods when you are moving or living away from loved ones?

1. Get honest about how you really feel.

You can’t fix something if you are pretending it isn’t broken. Try to get in tune with how you are really feeling and what is really upsetting you about either moving or about the place you are in if you have already moved. Journaling is a great way to get to the bottom of things, without others influencing our emotional process. If the idea of writing out how you really feel makes you feel ashamed or scared, then vow to yourself rip up whatever you write afterwards so you feel safer.

It can be helpful to talk to someone about you feel – but choose someone who listens and doesn’t judge, not someone who will make you feel worse or try to tell you how you feel. Don’t overlook the help of a coach or counsellor who can offer an uninvolved and unbiased perspective.

2. Be a little selfish.

If you are trying to pretend you aren’t feeling low about moving abroad because you don’t want to disappoint others, stop. It’s hard enough to be responsible for our own happiness, let alone that of those around us. And your mental wellbeing is important. Your friends and family might feel worried about you, it’s true, but they would feel a lot worse if you ended up deeply depressed or in real trouble in the future all because you were worried about disappointing them.

3. Stay open.

It’s easy once you get to a new place to panic and make sweeping judgements about a place – “nobody here is friendly”. “I will never fit in”. This sort of thinking, called ‘black and white thinking’ in therapy circles, tends to overlook all the shades of grey in the middle that make up real life. The truth is, for example, that there are some friendly people everywhere. The worse thing about black and white thinking is it shuts us down to new possibilities and opportunities.

Try to think from different perspectives. It can be fun to think of three people you admire and keep asking yourself how they would see it or what they’d do.  Think about your closest friend and what they would do if they found themselves in the same place?  Find a local gym, have a great endorphin-releasing workout?

4. Don’t sacrifice your self-care.

Speaking of working out, one of the first things to go when moving can be your self-care routine. It can seem a big effort to find a gym or a dance class in a new place.  You can be tempted to try all the new foods and end up eating a lot of junk food you wouldn’t have back home. Remember that a healthy diet and exercise can greatly elevate your moods so try to stay on top of being healthy.

And watch the alcohol intake – it’s a depressant that can help turn low moods into darker ones.

5. Keep forward movement.

If you are in a state of culture shock or overwhelm it can be easy to stop trying. Of course, pushing yourself is not the solution. Treat yourself gently. Try for a diet of one small new thing a day; a new food, a new walk, talking to a new person. It can also help to create a structure or schedule so you can’t just space out but do keep active.

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6. Try mindfulness.

Both when you are getting ready to move and after you have moved, there are times when the mind can become very obsessed with mulling over the past and the future. Am I making the right decision for my future? Why did I not see how much I had going for me in the past? What will happen if I stay here? The mind can get so caught up in such questions it can stop us from enjoying the present or even seeing what is going right in the present. We might miss opportunities that could lead to things that make us happy.

Mindfulness, a mood tool gaining popularity in therapy circles, is a way of bringing your attention firmly into the present – Read more here Mindfulness, what are the basics and how can we benefit from it?

7. Reach out for help.

When we start to feel down the easiest thing can seem to be to not talk to people or go out - but to hideaway. Unfortunately withdrawing from socialising feeds, a low mood and encourages it to blossom into full depression. And trying to deal with things by yourself is too much to ask of anyone who is stressed or feeling low. Try to reach out, even if it’s just talking to others on ex-pat forums online. Look around to see if there are any social groups locally that might help, such as an expat community.

As for professional help, don’t feel you can’t get help just because you are in a new place where you don’t know anyone. One of the benefits of the internet is the rise of counselling by skype, meaning you can access help anywhere in the world with someone who speaks your language and knows your culture.

Written By: Haylee Burley – Contractor Care Manager, Whizdom Recruitment

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