Moving house is likely to be stressful in itself due to a number of common worries attached to this event. Will moves that involve a chain of buyers and sellers remain synchronised? Will the solicitors manage the transfer of monies at completion without a hitch, so that the keys are available for the removals company to unload your belongings as projected? Will Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong it will go wrong) be operating on the day?
However the traumatic dimensions of moving house are most often less visible and more embedded in the narratives of the lives of the people moving. Moving house is only exceptionally an isolated event without connection to other major life transitions: such as the couple becoming a family with the arrival of their first child; or in less happy circumstances moving house is necessitated by divorce. Moves may also be occasioned by job loss, company relocation, emigration or disability/illness. The future shock of anticipated environmental change could be involved (rising risks of flooding and the routeing of high speed rail are topical British householder concerns). In other words there is often more shock or stress in what has occasioned the move than the move itself.
In one sense moving is a normal and matter of fact event, predictable enough. These days in the West very few people will live in the same abode from birth to death. For a start to leave home in your late teens or early twenties is an expected event (but due to the recession increasing numbers of young adults cant afford to move from the parental home even though both sides wish they could!). Frequent house moves may belong with the territory for corporate employees and members of the armed forces and hence are to be expected. Many people will have moved one or more times before leaving home around eighteen for further education or work. On the other hand sometimes a move is wholly unexpected, occasioned by events over which a person has little or no control. The most stressful moves are likely to be in this category.
It follows from the above that a move is likely to have both shared and unique meanings, responsibilities and impact for the various people involved. It should be borne in mind that children and adolescents, while spared the responsibility for the move, may nonetheless be much more at effect of the resulting changes in their lives and without much say in the matter (e.g. leaving friends and special places behind, changing schools, along with other more subtle challenges of adjustment). All in all, moves mean there is a lot to take into consideration, others to think about, and a complex mix of feelings to make allowance for and manage. Typically these feelings may include anxiety, resentment or disappointment; sadness, fear or anger. In addition the change of life context will bring with it some degree of initial disorientation. If therapy seems like an option for you at this point, you can search for the right therapist on the welldoing.org site.
Now for some DIY measures to prepare you for your move.
Ten practical suggestions for your body, mind and spirit
1. Forward planning
Don’t be caught on the hop. Anticipate and plan well in advance for the the life changes involved (as people do for a wedding). So that when the day of your move arrives you experience an agreeable degree of excitement about a significant life transition.
2. Ask for help
Let everyone in your support network know when you are moving. Perhaps you can ask a good friend to be available on the day.
3. Manage your state of mind
The ideal state of mind when in the middle of moving house is one of relaxed concentration. The calming self-statement “I can deal with that later” may be useful when something distracting crops up. Or if Murphy’s Law seems to have kicked in, try to recover a sense of humour by imagining how Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) would have handled this contingency.
4. The meaning of the move
Before you move consider the meaning and purpose of the move and try to identify some of the feelings you are experiencing. About leaving one place - and moving to another. Not just literally, in terms of location, but also inwardly, on the inside of you.
5. Keep perspective
Remember that any move after the first one in your life may be loaded with emotions that arose around the previous move(s), especially if you were unable to recognise and/or express them at the time. It helps to have a mantra available such as “this is a new move. I left X and Y behind at [old address]”. It is also as well to bear in mind, particularly when you cant understand the way you are feeling, that traumatic stress may be associated with past events we either don’t know about or we don’t consider relevant or important. In which case some counselling sessions will be more useful than self-talk.
6. Resources and anchors
If you find you are particularly anxious as the date for your move approaches, take stock of the resources available to you in your daily life e.g. friends, pleasurable interests and activities, a garden, a park or nature, pets or animals, spiritual resources or a religious faith. Notice how bringing any or all of these to mind can alter your mood and/or your physical state. Then choose one person, place or animal etc from amongst these resources, one that is particularly evocative of calm and security, one you feel you can depend on to change your state. This one becomes your anchor, to be kept in mind before, during and after the move. Note: all anchors are resources but not all resources are anchors. An anchor is a resource that can hold you steady when your emotional weather is stormy.
7. Try a grounding exercise
Choose a room or corridor with 15 to 20 clear feet of clear space to cross. Slowly and methodically, keeping your awareness in the soles of your feet with your normal stride, put one foot down in front of the other, raising the opposite hand in front of you in a focusing gesture that conveys intention, before shifting your weight onto the opposite foot. You are rehearsing for a steady and deliberated transition, what you want your move to be. You are installing an attitude that will serve you well on the day.
8. Strengthening the adult self
With one hand reach across to grip the bone of the opposite arm. In turn hold the upper arm, elbow and forearm, feeling the true size, solidity, length and circumference of your adult skeletal structure. Repeat on the other side. You are quite literally getting a grip on your self and the self is linked to bone.
9. Containing vulnerability
Get the largest part of your body, your back, into position against a wall. Now feel how you are making a boundary or shield with your back between the outside world (represented by the wall) and your inside world, the feelings within you, typically to be felt in the softer front of the torso. Then move from one wall to another and reposition your back against the new wall. The change of position is an analogue for your moving house.
10. Relax with an elephant swing
You are now standing in your new home. Imagine your arms are the trunk of an elephant. Let them hang loosely and as you turn your torso from the hips your arms begin to swing from side to side. As your relaxed arms flop and wrap behind you, the opposite heel will lift a little from the floor. Keep your eyes open and your gaze level, taking in your new abode.
Once upon a time, more than 30 years ago, I was a furniture remover. I owned a green pantechnicon, and being part Australian, along the side of it was painted a large yellow kangaroo and above the image the word ROOMOVALS. The kangaroo’s pouch featured a baby kangaroo with a speech bubble that said 'A kind and careful carrier’. For nine years I was never short of work. I no longer move the contents of people’s houses but I do attend to many moving stories, shifting attitudes, emotions and thinking as a therapist.