An anxious person’s guide to surviving your first big move

For a lot of us, our first big move happens in college. We move from small towns to big cities, big cities to small towns, west coast to east coast, or east coast to west coast, you get the gist. Although I moved cities in undergrad and again in grad school, I would consider my first big move as the one I did for work: Seattle to Los Angeles. Rain to sunshine. Passive aggressive driving to running red lights and not hesitating to lay on the horn. Fall leaves to brown, dried up drought leaves.

Moving has been an immense adjustment. But because of having moved before, I have previous experience of how I react to cultural and environmental change. Having done this a few times has helped tremendously in recognizing negative and positive coping patterns I’ve fallen into before and in creating space for patience during this transition.

I will say that I was a little disappointed to find out that my previous experience with moving didn’t totally wipe out all the baggage that comes with an adjustment, bypassing the roller coaster of emotions and feelings of loneliness. I assumed that because of my past moves, my body would simply jump over the hurdles of a new move and get right to the point of feeling stable in LA. Or at least shorten the timeframe that it took for me to adjust properly. Nope.

Each time I’ve moved it has taken about a year for me to fully transition. Although frustrating at first, it was nice to see that I had a whole belt of tools ready to use and all I needed to remember was to create a lot of space for patience because this transition was going to take much longer than a few months. Here are some of the tools I’ve used during my moves, particularly the ones that have made me find some footing in LA:

Get out on a walk or a run

Moving your legs around your new town, city, and surrounding areas is incredibly helpful in getting used to your new environment. For me, embracing a city means consuming it all at once. Anywhere I can get a view of its entirety, or almost its entirety, is key to me taking my new home in. Luckily LA has Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon running right along its edges and they have been huge helps. Higher elevation isn’t all about the views, it also drowns out a lot of overwhelming noise, the smell of a big city, and give people enough room to breathe properly because (at least for me) it feels as though you’re rising above it instead of being consumed by it. It’s easy to feel consumed by a city when its layout is unknown. This suggestion is also helpful for the simple fact that fact that exercise is a great de-stressor and helps ease anxiety.

Make a little routine

It doesn’t have to be for very long, but any routine you can make room for, I’ve found, is very helpful in taking on the city. Predictability is a major help for me when it comes to anxiety. I’m all for exploring a new environment, but I’m my most courageous self when I spend the first hour of the morning drinking coffee and writing. I can make space for that hour in any city and having that hour where I’m nourishing that feeling of me allows me to make room for all the vulnerability and unpredictability that comes with a new city.

Re-watch your favorite things

When I first got to LA, I spent an entire weekend re-watching all the Harry Potter movies. Why? Because they resonate so much with me that hearing the theme song and having it fill my apartment transports me back to a whole different time and place and I completely forget that I moved. After my first big move to Bellingham, WA., I spent all of winter quarter watching all six seasons of Lost. When I first moved to Seattle, WA. I spent the first four months plowing through eight seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.

Right now I have Mad Men as a back up for nights when I feel like the city is swallowing me (although I haven’t had to use it in awhile because I’m pretty sure I’m adjusting). Re-watching your favorite things is great for when the stress or anxiety of moving has crept up on you and caught you completely off guard. It’s incredibly helping particularly if, like me, you’re past coping behaviors for getting rid of unwanted emotions have been eating disorder related, or an unhealthy habit of any kind. Don’t spend a year in front of the television ignoring the fact that you’ve moved, but definitely utilize it when the thought of your new life has become too much and your other tools feel too exhaustive.

Remember what you like to do

If it’s farmer’s markets, bookstores, going to Target, antique shops, tourist attractions, bakeries, or movie theaters, explore all of those things in your new city. Of course it’s not going to be the same, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be bad either. Research to find the places locals go to if you don’t want to feel as touristy. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with new. I’m a fan of bookstores and LA is not a bookstore city like Seattle is in terms of size and number. However, there are a couple of incredibly cute, small bookstores around LA that get the job done.

Remember that it takes time to adjust

I keep myself in check when I feel irritated with my new city, disgusted, or am simply yearning for the familiarity of Seattle by saying aloud, “I don’t hate LA, but right now I don’t like it.” I also remind myself that I didn’t like Seattle when I first moved to it and wanted to move back to Bellingham. Resistance to change is common, and will fade as time goes on. Yes, there are many things I don’t like about SoCal (particularly the heat), but that doesn’t have to determine whether or not I hate it. I’ve only been here four months. A year is usually how long it takes before I completely change my mind, so until that year is up, when people ask how I like LA, I’m going to continue to say, “I don’t hate LA, but right now I don’t like it.” It creates space for transition and mixed emotions that many of us get when we move.

Give yourself a pat on the back

Mentally or physically, because moving is tough as shit and it takes a whole lot of courage to say yes to change. Although it seems like because you said yes you’re supposed to accept your move and let everyone know how dreamy the whole thing has been, think again. Moving, even if it’s the best thing for you, is not easy. New environments can be incredibly exhausting and difficult. There’s always room for both sides of change, the good and bad. The best way for me to adjust is by recognizing that each day is going to be different and I’m going to have days where I love the city and days where I hate it. It’s all part of the process. There’s no need to put on a fake smile and tell everyone things are fine; it’s going to make adjusting that much harder. Being honest, having patience, and creating space for uncertainty are all helpful tools for transitioning into a new phase of life.

[Image via Dreamworks]