The Mind Talk

The Mindtalk
Relocation and mental health illustration: moving boxes with a pink background

Hong Kong is an exhilarating place. Time lapse videos of the city reveal a perpetually lit up skyline with headlights speeding back and forth across a spiderweb city grid. It’s a unique collection of mixed cultures and languages, attracting people from all over the world. Yet the factors that have attracted so many to make a life here hides a common challenge – relocation is difficult. 

For those going through a major move, the experience may be more complex than anticipated. Just because you are excited or elated for the future, it doesn’t mean you won’t deeply miss your past or present. These conflicting emotions may even lead to feeling uncertain about the move. As humans, we like to be settled. For most human beings, the state of uncertainty, especially emotionally, is uncomfortable. Moving is by definition one of the most difficult processes to undertake and see through. 

How can we protect our mental health during a relocation?

Preparation

There are many reasons for moving; we can examine these reasons through the lens of  “push” and “pull”.

Push factors are aspects of your current environment that are leading you to think of leaving or removing yourself, such as unsustainable living conditions, unfulfilling work or career prospects, or insufficient childcare support.

Conversely, pull factors are aspects of a new environment that are attractive to you, such as a work opportunity, preferred climate or locale, better access to support networks and childcare resources. It is important to note down the emotional components of these factors and that they don’t only serve material needs but also the emotional needs important to you.

Ways to check in with yourself and those around you:

  • Take stock of your current environment and be honest with yourself about the push factors that are truly unique to your environment versus those rooted in emotional circumstances affecting you and your relationships. For example, would relocating actually eliminate recurring conflicts in your workplace or home?

  • Any move can potentially impact you and your family or loved ones. How can you communicate with and gather honest input from them? What may be beneficial to you may not be unequivocally beneficial for everyone else. Each person may have different push and pull factors. The objective is not for unilateral alignment, but to agree to an approach and decision. Having everyone’s voice heard and considered is important to resolve the decision, particularly emotionally.
Relocation and mental health: a couple with heads in their hands sitting next to boxes

Execution

The process of moving can be daunting not just due to logistics, but the uncertainty and emotions it evokes. Even when the physical relocation is simple, there is the emotional process of transitioning from one place to another. This may require bidding farewell to valued friends and family and communities. Feeling strong emotions when visiting locations or specific places that have resonance may be particularly surprising or distressing. Remind yourself this is a natural part of the process. While this alone may not assuage or soothe the distress, it can provide helpful context.

Ways to check in with yourself and those around you:

  • It is easy to focus on moving logistics and neglect the emotional elements of leaving / moving somewhere new. This could be partly a form of avoidance of distress for some individuals (which is natural – who likes to feel pain or sadness?). There may be surprising benefits from having heartfelt and emotional experiences with key connections (both people and locations) as part of the moving process. While there may not be a ‘resolution’, it may provide a context or frame for you to reshape the connection or memory that you can bring with you to your new environment.

  • Emotional shifts, or swings even, between excitement and sadness can be disorienting and cause distress. It can be helpful to practise embracing the duality of these dissonant feelings by understanding that one can feel both happy and sad about leaving somewhere meaningful to somewhere new that will also be meaningful. Don’t judge the feelings you experience – they’re all of value and play a role in reminding yourself of what is important to you.

Reorientation 

Upon arriving in a new place, the experience can be both exhilarating and bewildering. You may feel isolated, surrounded by unfamiliar languages and cultural norms, even if you have a support network. Re-engaging and embedding yourself takes time.

It’s natural to start comparing your previous life to the current one, as assumptions and preconceptions are tested. Some turbulence in relationships is also common, as family members may adjust at different paces.

Ways to check in with yourself and those around you:

  • If work was a key factor for the relocation, it may feel natural to allot more time to this aspect upon arrival. To balance this inclination, one can be more intentional about spending significant time with loved ones and family to check in and be present for challenges they face adjusting. There may not be a direct intervention for you to help with their challenges, but connection and emotional support can be a platform of stability and consistency for them to reach their own ‘normal’.

  • Look to fill the various aspects of life as soon as you can when you settle. For example, physical fitness activity may be curtailed during the immediate moving period, but resuming and recreating familiar routines can help you settle in. During the transition into a new place, there are often opportunities to bridge the familiarity of the ‘old’ with the excitement of the ‘new’.

As exciting as it may be, a relocation from Hong Kong can impact mental health as one navigates the preparation, execution and reorientation associated with the move. It can feel lonely and isolating as you transition to that new phase in your life.

Throughout the process, it’s important to be attuned to your emotional and mental needs as well as those of loved ones impacted by the relocation. Don’t forget that relocation in Hong Kong is a common challenge and that many around you have very likely gone through similar experiences. You’re joining a larger community through this shared experience!

Photo Credits:
First image: Istock pc: OLEKSII ZAPASHCHYKOV
Second image: Istock pc: AntonioGuillem

References

Bhugra, D. (2009). Migration and mental health. Hong Kong Journal of Mental Health. 35, 44-54.

Riemer, J.W. (2000). Job relocation, sources of stress, and sense of home. Community, Work & Family, 3(2), 205-217. https://doi.org/10.1080/713658901

 

Justin King

Justin King

About the author

Justin Kung founded Everyday Empathy to support individuals and organisations on mental health matters and personal development initiatives. Justin’s professional background spans 15+ years in roles across journalism, digital production, career coaching and innovative consultation before completing a master’s in counselling and qualifying as a mental health counsellor in 2020.

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