Why is moving homes so stressful?

Social research has found it to be in the top five life stressors, following death of a loved one and divorce. Why is that so? Below I highlight some of the physical and emotional stressors.

 SOCIAL RESEARCH has found moving to be among the top five life stressors. (photo credit: PEXELS)
SOCIAL RESEARCH has found moving to be among the top five life stressors.
(photo credit: PEXELS)

After living in the same apartment for 28 years, my wife and I made another “aliyah,” moving from Ra’anana to Jerusalem.

We raised our four children in our Ra’anana apartment and have memories of those wonderful years: birthday celebrations, holiday meals, Shabbat meals and the everyday family life experiences. During our years in Ra’anana, we saw our children go through the educational system, youth group experiences, military service and university – and happily had the opportunity to bring all four children to the huppah.

We belonged to the same synagogue, made very good friends, shopped at the same clothing stores, grocery stores and bakeries. We ate at local restaurants and worked out at the same gym. We saw the same faces over and over again, everywhere we went. Overall, we were very content with life in Ra’anana.

Over the past year our apartment building was closing on a Tama “pinui binui,” an urban renewal project, which entails tearing down the old building and putting up a new building in its place. The expected project time frame is three years. 

When our building got the final project approval, our decision to relocate was clear. Whereas most of our neighbors found rental apartments in Ra’anana, we opted to be adventurous and move to Jerusalem. All our children and grandchildren live in the Jerusalem area, and past COVID restrictions which had severely limited family contact made our choice easy to make. We wanted the opportunity to be in close proximity to our children and grandchildren.

Moving (credit: PIXABAY)Moving (credit: PIXABAY)

In spite of our strong motivation to move, we can definitely confirm that moving is no easy matter. Social research has found it to be in the top five life stressors, following death of a loved one and divorce. Why is that so? Below I highlight some of the physical and emotional stressors we experienced during the moving period.

1. Preparation: Sorting, getting rid of stuff and packing

Once the move was for certain, we realized how enormous the physical undertaking would be. For many people, moves entail downsizing or relocating after years of living in a home. For us, this was the reality. Not only did my wife and I have many things to sort through, but all our children did also. 

Over the summer, our children helped us with the task of sorting both our and their stuff. Many times, it was a cathartic feeling to find some significant memorabilia – old letters, pictures and school projects – and it gave us all a chance to reminisce about years gone by. There were decisions to make – what to take with us, what each child wanted to take, what to sell and what to donate. 

Packing our things followed the sorting period. I can now say that the packing process is certainly one of the most stressful aspects of moving.

2. Working under a deadline, pressure and physical tasks

In order to successfully complete our tasks, I hired a young man to help us. Not only did he do the heavy lifting, but he also helped with many moving-related jobs. Also, we decided to ask the mover to pack our kitchen and other specific areas. The decision to get help certainly reduced the packing stress.

3. Putting your life on hold while still trying to take care of yourself

Overwhelmed with the task, it is important to maintain some normalcy during the pre-move period. Endless tasks can potentially interfere with basic health maintenance, which may increase the moving stress. We tried to eat properly, get enough sleep, maintain our work schedules and exercise.

4. Emotional stress of giving up a home

One’s home is connected to our sense of well-being and connection, and physically “detaching” ourselves from the home may elicit feelings of sadness, regret, frustration and even anger. Although my wife and I freely signed on to the project, the reality of giving up a home we loved was sad. For our children, it was sad to imagine that the apartment that they grew up in would soon be knocked down. 

So we did some out-of-the-box thinking. We planned a brunch and a “paint the walls” party. All of our family joined in and drew pictures all over the apartment walls. We took pictures of all the drawings and posted it all on our family WhatsApp group. 

It was awesome, watching everyone – grandkids, adult children and spouses – getting into the spirit of picking a wall to color and drawing all kinds of special drawings and messages. One wall was called “Wishes for the Future.” It was truly a cathartic way to say goodbye to the family home. Giving all family members a chance to express feelings about leaving the home was also part of the day’s activities.

5. Saying goodbye to friends, neighbors and our synagogue community

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of moving is telling friends and then saying goodbye. We know that we will maintain our friendships, but the frequency of seeing each other will clearly decrease.

6. Clutter and disarray can cause anxiety – new apartment, unpacking and organizing

Anyone who has ever moved knows that the leaving part is only half of the task. Unpacking the boxes as soon as possible allows you to feel more connected to your new environment. In order to help us feel at home in our new apartment, we sought help from a professional organizer who helped us unpack and organize our new premises. For us, this was a very wise choice. As soon as the kitchen was in working order, we started to feel like it was home.

7. Fear of the unknown, learning about the new city

The loss of familiarity is mentioned in the social research literature as one of the big stressors of moving and relocating. Establishing a routine as quickly as possible is essential. Our children were there to help us make some important connections to people in the neighborhood and familiarize us with our new city, such as synagogue choices and available gyms. We quickly found a gym that was to our liking and began visiting different minyanim to see which would be the right fit for our needs. Meeting new people clearly is a positive turning point in getting started in our new community.

In summary, both the pre- and post-move periods have many stressful triggers. Plan as much as possible, and get help when needed. And realize that all the stress and feelings of loss are normal. Giving up the feeling of belonging in your former home and starting to feel a connection to your new home is a slow process. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I can certainly say that it is getting better all the time.■

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist and consultant with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. He also conducts sessions online. www.facebook.com/drmikegropper ; [email protected]