At one point or another, we’ve all considered running away and starting anew in some romanticized, faraway city. However, it can be difficult to discern whether our desire to move is motivated by escapism, valid concerns or a bit of both. Knowing what is motivating your move can help you envision the outcome.
It’s easy to delude yourself into thinking that everything will somehow be perfect in a new city, but you will still be you, along with all of your lovable quirks and particularities. While changing your environment can be enormously beneficial to your mental health, especially if your current environment isn’t favourable, it isn’t inherently beneficial.
That said, there are some telltale signs that moving to a new city might actually benefit your mental health — let’s look at 10 signs to consider.
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You feel physically and/or emotionally unsafe
Full stop. If you feel physically and/or emotionally unsafe in your current environment and have the opportunity to do so, find a way to get away. If that means moving to another city, then do so by all means — especially if you have an existing support system.
This reason for moving to a new city trumps all others in our books. Physical and psychological safety are crucial to everyone’s well-being. If you are living in an environment where you do not feel comfortable expressing your thoughts, feelings and opinions, you owe it to yourself to remove yourself from that environment.
You’re unable to find the community and support you need
If you don’t feel a sense of belonging in your current city and have felt a greater sense of belonging elsewhere, it might be advisable to move away. For instance, if you belong to a marginalized community that has little representation in a given city, it is understandable that you might wish to seek community elsewhere. We all want to be witnessed, understood and celebrated for who we are. One study found that feeling understood leads to interpersonal closeness, whereas not feeling understood leads to feelings of isolation.
Besides, in this day and age, you can easily find your squad just by searching “r/” followed by your niche interest on Reddit. If all else fails, moving to a metropolitan city can offer you countless opportunities to meet fellow live steel larpers or sober mixologists. If the great outdoors are more your thing, you might find a greater sense of community by moving to a rural setting and joining a hiking group or the like. What matters is that you find ways to feel connected to others around you. Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education reports that people who feel connected to others experience lower levels of anxiety and depression.
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The political climate makes you feel physically and/or psychologically unsafe
The words and actions of those in power can understandably cause distress to the communities that are impacted by their antics and rhetoric. Communities that are at a systemic disadvantage, such as racialized individuals, religious minorities and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, might justifiably feel safer moving to cities with more socially progressive political climates. This is particularly pertinent if the leading political ideology threatens your mental and physical safety.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Dr. Kevin Smith at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that a statistically significant number of Americans were reporting politics-related stress and negative health impacts following the election of Donald Trump when compared to a pre-election baseline. There’s no doubt that having to tolerate institutionalized bigotry can take its toll on the human spirit, so it would make sense to move to a new city if you take issue with the local politics.
The laws and policies negatively impact you
When the laws and policies that govern your life are at odds with your values, it might be time to consider moving to a new city. Take Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits public employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. The bill, purported to uphold the laicity of the nation, most significantly impacts Muslim women. Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations said the bill ran counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is no surprise that such a xenophobic law could elicit a move. When discrimination and human rights violations are blatantly institutionalized, it might be worth reconsidering your living situation.
There are limited academic and professional opportunities
If your city or town’s economy is dependent on specific industries, or if there are limited opportunities for you to study what interests you, it might be sensible to move to a more professionally and academically promising city. Just last year, a poem entitled “The Great Realization,” published by Tomos Roberts, sparked a global string of resignations, which the news dubbed “The Great Resignation.” As people endured personal hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many came to realize that what they choose to do for a living impacts their mental health and general well-being.
Given how much time is spent at work, it is no surprise that people want to enjoy what they do. In fact, employment aggregate website Indeed conducted a study of workplace happiness last year, which found that 92 per cent of respondents answered that how they feel at work affects how they feel at home. Ergo, you might consider moving to a new city if there are limited professional and academic opportunities where you are. Doing so could greatly enhance your quality of life.
You feel the need to detach yourself from unhealthy relationships
Sometimes, you can get so caught up in other people’s opinions and desires that you forget to tend to your own. In the field of psychology, this is known as enmeshment, and physically removing yourself from such relationships can be exceptionally liberating and self-affirming. Dr. Ann Chanler defines enmeshment as a state in which “we lose a sense of where we leave off and another begins.” This is very common in family units or close interpersonal relationships, and it can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes.
If you are feeling coddled, repressed or overly emotionally invested in the opinions of those around you, it might be a good idea to put some physical space between yourself and those relationships by moving to another city. Doing so can offer you some independence and time to build your sense of self. That way, you can show up with personal integrity in your close, interpersonal relationships.
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You can have greater overall quality of life elsewhere
With the rising cost of living, the exorbitant cost of rent and soaring inflation rates, many Canadians are finding it hard to make ends meet. A recent survey out of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab found that roughly 24 per cent of Canadians are having to cut back on groceries due to higher food prices. Given the real and sometimes pressing implications of the economy on a person’s livelihood, it makes sense to contemplate moving to another city if doing so could enhance your overall quality of life. If you can get more for less, and your employer gives you the go-ahead, consider relocating to a more affordable or worthwhile city.
The climate and weather impact your physical and/or mental health
This might come as no surprise to the many who are afflicted, but Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a fairly common recurrent major depressive disorder that manifests as seasonally triggered episodes of depression. However, one does not have to be diagnosed with SAD to be affected by changes in weather and season. If you live in an area with an unfavourable climate, whether it be cold and lacking daylight or blistering and arid, moving to a new city might benefit your mental health.
A 2008 study published in the journal of Emotion found that individuals differ in their sensitivity to changes in weather and season. Nevertheless, the study also found that sunlight had a significant effect on a person’s energy levels and mood. So, if you feel low because you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D, you might want to consider moving to a city where the grass is quite literally greener.
You can have better access to social services and healthcare elsewhere
How does that old adage go? “Health is wealth”? In any case, the Government of Canada published a report a few years ago, which disclosed that roughly 29 per cent of Canadians reported experiencing some degree of difficulty accessing healthcare services in 2013. Most recently, an Angus Reid Institute poll found that Canadians might be more dissatisfied with their access to healthcare than Americans. If you find yourself in an environment with limited access to the social services and/or healthcare you require, it would be wise to consider moving to another city.
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You currently cannot do the things you want to do where you live
Whether you wish to hike through boundless nature or explore an urban jungle, if you cannot do the things you wish to do in your current environment, you should seriously consider moving to a new city. Sometimes we get bored of our current environments and crave novelty and excitement. Experiencing different ways of life and immersing yourself in different cultures can make you more adaptive and resilient.
Ultimately, moving to a new city won’t solve all of your problems, but it could possibly benefit your mental health. If you found yourself relating to many of these signs, you might want to give more thought to the idea of moving to a new city.