Contributed by Dan Martin, MS Psych
Preparing the family for a move may conjure images of stacks of boxes and phone calls to utility companies. While those logistical matters are a key part of making sure that the move goes smoothly they only address a portion of the necessary tasks. I’m reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs from the days when I used to teach Psychology to university undergraduates. For those who missed that class the idea behind his theory is that we all have different levels of needs as individuals for us to survive or thrive. Some of the basic levels focused mainly on physiological needs e.g. food, shelter, water and the like. The next level moved on into safety. The more advanced levels addressed things like emotional and social wellbeing. When preparing for a move we may follow a similar path. We may secure housing, sign up for water and electrical service. Once we have that sorted the next task may be to obtain insurance so our precious belongs are protected against loss. The final area to address may be the tasks necessary to assure our emotional and social wellbeing at the new location.
Why is preparation important?
A recent study that was done in Denmark serves as a strong reminder that it is not a luxury to tend to the social and emotional needs of the family when planning a move. The study collected data over 25 years for about 1.4 million people. They found that children who had more frequent moves had the poorest outcomes later in life. The rates for mental health problems, suicide, substance abuse, crime, as well as premature death were all significantly higher for people whose families had moved the most.
This isn’t to say we should never move if we have kids. Moves happen. The key is to be aware of the impact it can have on the family especially the little ones. Once you are aware of the areas of your lives that may be impacted the most you will need to work out a plan to shore those areas up.
How can you prepare?
Find what you love
For some of those life areas it may be possible to find a version of what you really enjoyed in your new location. For example, if your little one has a very close group of friends they will be leaving behind it could be very important to get them connected to others in their new school as well as staying in touch with their old friends. If volunteering or participating in team sports is a big part of your typical routine you could start seeking out those opportunities as soon as possible after you relocate or even before.
There are also general self-care tasks that we can do to improve our overall emotional resilience. We should pay particular attention to these things when we are going through times of stress like a big relocation. These are the things we all hear about being important e.g. adequate sleep, nutritious diet, regular exercise, and involvement in social activities. You could add in some form of relaxation practice that works for you as well whether that is mindfulness, mediation, yoga, reading, etc. These sorts of self-care activities will serve as an anchor for you as you face the winds of change.
For many expats they may find the loss of their social support system as one of the biggest challenges when relocating. This is as true for those who have only a couple true blue friends as it is for the social butterflies who prefer to surround themselves with others whenever possible. It will be important to invest some effort in seeking out some new connections. How you accomplish this may vary from location to location but some of the sorts of things to research would be clubs, groups, or associations.
If there is a neighborhood association, or an association for your particular home country that could be a great place to find some folks you could relate to. Joining professional associations for whatever it is you do may be useful personally as well as professionally.
Clubs may be another avenue whether that is the local health club, book clubs or some civic club they may all offer some forum for meetings or opportunities to get to know other members.
Joining groups may be another pathway to getting connected. You may find sites like Meet-up that lists groups on all sorts around the globe a useful resource. For example, if you are a coffee lover who enjoys a good debate there may be a local group for you. If you prefer to try new restaurants or travel there are groups out there for those interests as well.
These sorts of positive actions will prepare you for being able to explore your new environment and start enjoying the fun and adventure that comes with a major relocation. You may even have a couple new besties to share these with you. By putting some thought and planning into the emotional and social aspects of your relocation you will not just survive but thrive.
Author: Dan Martin, MS Psych
Dan Martin MS Psych, is a Psychologist who has expertise in expat adjustment; couples counseling; stress and anxiety; drug & alcohol counseling; career planning; post-separation parenting; as well as depression.
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For those interested in reading the original research mentioned above it is available here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2016.04.011