Small Steps You Can Take to Manage The Stress of Moving to a New City

You know when you’re traveling and you fall asleep somewhere new and unfamiliar and inevitably wake up in a state of extreme confusion, having completely forgotten where you are? You feel like, before you even open your eyes, that you’re in the place you just came from. That experience, that moment of jarring spatial disorientation is something I’ve been experiencing a lot lately. It has a similar, truncated sentiment to that one Talking Head’s song about David Bryne’s midlife crisis. And you may ask yourself, “Well… How did I get here?”

I’m not having a mid-life crisis but I have moved to four cities and two states in a little over a year. After finding myself kneeling on the kitchen floor of my friend’s apartment in Oakland, CA, having personal crisis about instant oatmeal, I’ve come to realize that moving is tough. It’s bewildering and emotional, sometimes fun and zany, but mostly takes a lot of hard work and luck.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be adaptable. I have that unfortunate personality combination of a restless soul coupled with a tendency for extreme anxiety. I’m not great at relinquishing control of my own circumstances and I have a love/hate relationship with spontaneity. Luckily, I’m scrappy. I’ve done this before. Most importantly, I have amazing, supportive friends who let me sleep on their living room floor while I anxiously scroll through apartment listings and help wanted ads.

So without further ado, I’m going to talk about about a few coping mechanisms that have helped me feel a little less overwhelmed when dealing with a major life changes.

Call your mom. If you don’t have a good relationship with your mom, you can sub another family member or encouraging friend. Really anyone who thinks you’re the knees of the bees and is eager to remind you of this. I’m not as special or smart or talented as my mom thinks I am, but occasionally it helps to hear it from her.

Subscribe to a local news outlet. I spent my first morning in Oakland wandering around neighborhoods trying to find a coffee shop with WiFi. All around me the city was singing its gritty, siren song and the air tasted like dust and the smoke from the recent Santa Rosa fire. I had no idea where I was…and I compulsively snatched a copy of the paper from someone’s front porch and slipped it into my backpack. Later, in a crowded cafe on Telegraph Avenue, I relished that paper. I read every single word. I scoured the classifieds, noted which BART stations to avoid at night and learned that the air quality in SF that day was as bad as a Beijing’s. My point is [not to steal newspapers; I returned it to its porch as soon as I was done, I swear!] that you can use the local news to your advantage. Whether it be a print source, a podcast or a Twitter account, just utilize it. You’ll learn about your surroundings and feel a little less like an itty-bitty fish in a noisy, unfiltered pond.

Buy a real bed. “If I move in 5 months, what’s the point of even buying a mattress if it might not even fit in my new place?” Okay seriously, I don’t care how accustomed you are to an air mattress or a sleeping-bag-on-the-floor or the deceptively-comfortable-looking-Target-brand-futon. If you’re like me, you spend at least twelve out of twenty-four hours in bed, whether it be sleeping or reading or staring at the ceiling in a state of weary malaise. You deserve to be comfortable! You’re too old to compromise this basic level of human convenience and you’re too young to have a broken back. Pro tip: Buy a NEW mattress; don’t pick up one off the street. Because bed bugs and other unsavory questionables. will sell and send you one for less than $75.

Find the nearest library and sign up for a library card. Get a stamp card at your favorite coffee shop. Take pictures of the fliers on the bulletin boards for improv shows and book signings and actually go to them.

Prepare a meal in your new kitchen.Even if it’s just boiling some water for spaghetti.

If you’re an animal person, find one to love! Befriend the neighborhood stray cats, volunteer at a humane society, find a petsitting gig, adopt! There is a growing body of scientific evidence that interacting with animal companions can increase your level of the hormone oxytocin, which releases feelings up happiness and trust in the brain.

I’ve forgotten all of their names, but I will never forget the giddiness they bestowed onto me when they graciously allowed me to me pet them.

Read your favorite coming-of-age novel or watch a movie if you prefer. Any story about transition, change and growth. There’s something comforting and inspiring about seeing a fictional character conquer similar and realistic obstacles. I read a lot and every time I move I think, This is it. This is the day I get rid of all my books and finally buy a Kindle, But there’s something comforting and companionable about being surrounded by all of my favorite stories. This might warrant an entire post about novels I’ve read while moving, but here are three books I’m currently enjoying that all center around moving and change and feeling small in a very large place.

Try to wean yourself off Google maps. Navigation tools are a godsend when you first move to an unfamiliar, spiraling city. However, an internal compass and a good sense of direction are underrated skills and highly useful when your phone dies at 2am while you’re trying to make your way home from The Club. On that note, you don’t have to see an entire city in one weekend. If you pressure yourself to absorb everything at once you might burn out from the sensory overload. Your status as the new kid on the block might even prove to be useful. A great way to bond with new friends is to ask them to show you popular attractions or their favorite hidden gems. Be curious but remember that you’ve got time. You don’t have to devour an entire city whole. There’s something poetic and decisive about spontaneously taking two trains and walking two miles to catch a glimpse of the ocean on a Thursday afternoon.

Remember that nostalgia is an inaccurate feeling, especially when you’re feeling especially homesick. Try to recall all of those moments you spent pouting on your childhood bed in your stuffy hometown creating worlds inside your head. Feeling like your life was a stagnant pool of water. Remember how you wanted to be anywhere but there? You dreamed big dreams and now you’re accomplishing them little, by little. It feels intimidating now, but you’re taking on exactly what your fourteen-year-old self was pining for. Take it easy and remember to call home every once in a while.

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