Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is the original Ninja Writer.
Relocation Depression Is Real
In November, my family packed up a U-Haul truck and two cars, and we moved from Reno, Nevada to the little town in Northwestern Pennsylvania where my husband grew up.
I have lived in the desert all of my life. I'm a used to 350 or so days of sunshine a year, even in the winter when it is cold and snowy. Pennsylvania in the winter is overcast and dreary in a way that I've never experienced before.
Moving away from my friends and family, my home, the weather I'm used to . . . it all piled up and resulted in a solid case of relocation depression that lasted the whole winter.
What Relocation Depression Looks Like
For me, relocation depression looked like this:
- I gained fifteen pounds, despite my weight being stable for years. I coped with my depression by eating comfort food and especially sweet treats.
- I stayed up way too late because I couldn't fall asleep.
- I had trouble waking up in the morning. Partly because of my insomnia, but also because I'm used to sunshine in the morning and there were weeks on end with such heavy overcast that my brain had trouble registering that it was actually morning.
- I dove headfirst into work. I've always been something of a workaholic, but this went beyond anything I've experienced before. I started losing myself in work to avoid my heavy homesickness.
- Since I work from home, I started hiding away from the world. Days would go by where I never left the house.
Getting Better Starts With Understanding There's a Problem
One day, in early spring, my husband asked me what I wanted to do. He was concerned about me spending sometimes 22 or 23 hours a day in our bedroom, buried in my work or sleeping.
I wanted to go home. Back to Nevada. Back to the desert. Back to my life.
But that wasn't an option. Just acknowledging that I wasn't coping well with our move helped me to see that I needed to make some changes to help myself deal with my relocation depression.
See a Professional
My first step was to make a doctor's appointment.
I don't have a history of depression, and even though I felt homesick and sluggish and unhappy--I wasn't having any suicidal ideation or other severe depression symptoms.
My doctor didn't think I needed medication, but he did suggest vitamins D and B12. He also prescribed thirty minutes of exercise a day.
Eat Well and Exercise
I spent the first months after my move eating a lot of heavy, comforting, fatty, sugary food. Homemade macaroni and cheese, grilled sandwiches, cookies, and on and on. I also made a lot of homemade Mexican food to make myself feel better about the lack of Western food I was used to.
My first substantial change, in my quest to feel better, was to start eating less fat and sugar and more fresh food. Just paying more attention and being aware of what I was eating made a huge difference.
I also took my doctor's advice and started going on a thirty-minute walk every day, even when I had to bundle up against the bitter early-spring cold.
These two changes made a huge difference. My weight stabilized and has started to reduce. And I'm considerably happier after spending some time out of doors. My rule is to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day.
Prioritize Sleep Hygiene
My sleep got so off kilter when we moved.
I didn't realize how important the sun was to my sleep/wake pattern until I went months without it. Most mornings this winter were so overcast that it was impossible to see the sun. So instead of waking up with sun filtering through my curtains, I woke up groggy and disoriented much later than I was used to.
As a result of sleeping so late, I stayed up too late, and often had trouble falling asleep at all.
Getting my sleep habits back on track was an important part of combating my Relocation Depression. I started by making myself go to bed half an hour earlier every two or three days until I was back to my regular bedtime.
And I replaced my curtains with lighter sheers that would allow whatever sun there was in the morning to come through.
I also stopped eating a few hours before bed, which kept me from having digestive issues that kept me awake at night.
A huge step for me was making myself get out of my house and into my new community.
I work from home and own my own business, so for the first time in my adult life I'd made a big move without school or work as a built-in method for meeting people. I needed to figure out a different way.
For me that looked like finding a church to join, looking for meet-ups of people who shared my hobbies, and overcoming my natural shyness to just say hello to my neighbors.