The decision to move from Copenhagen to London was an easy one. I was 26, recently unemployed, and single. So when I was offered a job in a cosmopolitan city with a population twice that of my home country, I said yes without much hesitation. I didn’t know anyone there, but shaking things up was exactly what I needed, so I rented out my apartment and left. I was excited.
We’re told that making big changes in life is invigorating. That exposing yourself to new things and new people is the only way to really get to know yourself. That to grow as a person, you must challenge yourself. I find this to be mostly true, but I’ve also discovered that actually uprooting yourself, thrilling as it may be, comes with its own set of challenges. Challenges that have taken time to develop coping strategies for.
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I’ve lived in the UK for seven months now, and I get asked all the time if I’m homesick. I’m not. To me, homesickness is the bittersweet pang of longing you feel when you think about your hometown or country. I don’t wish I were there, or anywhere else for that matter. If I did, I would move. I’m not miserable, and I genuinely enjoy exploring my new city. I’m just… lonely. Not all the time, but sometimes. And even though I’ve come to accept it as a natural part of living far away from the people I love most, it sucks. And it continues to suck despite whatever awesome things I have going on in my “new life” in London.
I’m not miserable, and I genuinely enjoy exploring my new city. I’m just… lonely.
I do have friends here now (two whole friends!). I’ve got an interesting job and a lovely place to live with a group of truly kind housemates. That side of things is great. But, in terms of social life, my life here still doesn’t begin to compare to what I have at home, and the absence of all my best friends is palpable.
Thinking about all of this, one thing in particular pops into my head; when Shoshanna from Girls moved to Japan all on her lonesome. Sitting in a ramen shop, Shoshanna lists all of the exciting things about her new life — her new job; her new boyfriend — but ends up breaking down because she’s just “really fucking lonely.” I know exactly how she feels.
I asked the people of Twitter how others have coped with this particular kind of loneliness, and I discovered that there are so many other people who are currently experiencing what I’m going through, or have in the past. Moving to a new place is as fulfilling as it is challenging. To others, it might seem inspiring, but in reality it can be very isolating. But, I’m happy to say there are ways to cope. The feelings of loneliness don’t always go away exactly, but you can learn to deal with them.
Mental health professional Fatmata Kamara — who’s a specialist nurse adviser with Bupa UK — tells me it’s important to remind yourself that loneliness is a completely common human emotion we all experience sometimes. If you’re concerned your feelings are having a negative impact on your health, you should seek help. “If you’re feeling lonely and you’re worried it’s affecting your health, you should speak to your GP,” Kamara says. “They’ll be able to give you help, should your loneliness be developing into a more serious form, like depression.”
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Other than that, here’s a list of achievable, non-scary things that have helped me and others in the same situation cope with being alone in a new place. The focus of these tips isn’t necessarily on making new friends — although there are some links at the bottom of the article for apps that might help with that — but rather a list of self-care acts that can help when you’re feeling a bit lost. They have helped me cope, and I hope they can help you, too.
Be honest about how you feel
Telling the people around you that your calendar is actually brimming with exciting plans is doing yourself a disservice. Having to answer “not much” every time someone asks what you’re doing this weekend is hard, especially in the beginning — but it’s better than pretending, and people have a greater capacity to understand than you know.
According to Kamara, sharing your feelings is really important from a mental health perspective as well. “If you’re struggling with loneliness or if you’re feeling a bit lost, it can help to open up about how you feel to friends and family,” Kamara says. “Even if they’re not close by, they’re only a call or text away.”
Opening up and staying connected with the people in your life back home is definitely the first step you should take to make yourself feel less alone. Tell them that FaceTiming or calling actually means a lot to you. Make appointments to talk, don’t just expect it to happen spontaneously.
Don’t feel pressured to do everything
It’s really typical to feel like you need to say yes to every social opportunity that presents itself to you when your social life is limited – good old beggars-can’t-be-choosers logic. But doing something you aren’t into just because you feel you ought to is not the way forward.
Kenny and Lizzie, who prefer to use their first names, have both relocated in the past. According to both of them, staying true to yourself is important when you’re finding yourself in a new place.
“If you’re into fringe theatre, why go to a rave?” asks consultant Kenny, who lives in London. For him, the way forward is “doing what you love and attracting your natural crew.”
“You don’t have to be besties with the first people that come along,” says retail supervisor Lizzie, who also resides in London. “Make sure they’re good for you first.”
Go on a date with your city
Say what you will about Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, but she was definitely onto something when she invented going on a “date” with your city.
“Dating” your city can be a lot of fun. Embrace being touristy and go explore.
That’s something that helped novelist Kealan Burke, who moved from Ireland to the U.S. “The more I immersed myself in culture and discovery, the less intimidating the experience became,” says Burke, who lives in Columbus, OH.
Whether you’re into parks, museums, or just general urban exploring, get out there. If eating at a restaurant alone scares you (it scares me, too), I’ve found that a picnic of take away is a great way to eat out, solo. Another tangible piece of advice is to take the bus or walk rather than taking the underground. That way, you actually see your city.
Binge on culture
“I found immersing myself in culture (books, film, music) kept the loneliness at bay,” says communications director Rich, from Surrey, who prefers to use his first name. “Immersive TV is great, too. I watched the entirety of Lost and The Wire.”
Podcasts, especially funny, chatty ones, are also a truly great source of company when real life human company is not an option. Find one with hosts you really like (for me, Jonathan Goldstein on “Heavyweight” feels like a close personal friend at this point.)
Retail supervisor Lizzie recommends music as a way to both remind you of home and make you excited for new adventures.
“Make two playlists: one that reminds you of great memories, one to energise you for all the fun you’ll have in the new place,” says Lizzie.
Go to the gym
Exercise feels good, and you know what else feels good? Getting out of the house. Going to the gym kills those two birds with one stone.
“I relocated four years ago and it’s very daunting. My saving grace was joining a gym,” says PR consultant Rae Radford, who lives in London. “I’ve made one amazing friend who is now my gym buddy.”
The same can definitely be said for other sports clubs, running groups, cycling teams, etc. “I turned to running when I moved from Barbados to a small town in Northern Ireland,” says communications manager Clare Hiles, who currently lives in Belfast. “I did it alone, and I did it with people — really helped me to cope!”
According to Kamara, exercise is a genuinely good way to fix your mood by putting your happiness-inducing neurotransmitters to work.
“When you’re feeling a bit low, exercise can feel like the last thing you want to do,” Kamara says. “However, exercise can help boost a low mood because it releases endorphins, which triggers positive feelings within the brain.”
A 2018 study of 1.2 million Americans, conducted by researchers from universities Oxford and Yale and published in the Lancet Psychiatry, found that just 2 hours of exercise a week can have a positive impact on your mental health.
Remember why you moved
You were probably really excited by the thought of your new life before you left, right? Remind yourself of the reasons you decided to make this big change. Try to think back to what motivated you to make the move. Make a list if it helps.
And also, enjoy the feeling of actually having followed through on something for yourself. No matter how long you stick with it or how well the whole thing works out for you, this is an amazing, courageous thing you did. So pat yourself on the back.
Remind yourself it’s not forever (unless you want it to be)
Here’s a liberating thought for you: you made the decision to move, and you can make the decision to move right back.
While having to adjust to new living conditions as permanent seems like an insurmountable task, looking at your new life as an adventure you can quit when you want allows you to relax.
Try setting a time limit for yourself (six months, nine months, a year – it’s up to you) and see how you feel at the end of it. If it’s not what you thought it’d be? You can just go home.
“I treated it like an adventure, an expedition, and one that could end if I deemed it necessary,” says novelist Kealan Burke.
By looking at your new life circumstances as temporary rather than permanent, the whole thing becomes infinitely less stressful.
People obviously cope differently with different challenges as they arise, and there’s a myriad of other ways to deal with loneliness. Apps like Bumble BFF or Vina, for example, are great resources for finding friends and connecting with others. Volunteering in your local community is also a good way to feel part of a community through an activity that’s meaningful to you.
But remember, feeling a little blue or lonely after making a big change is completely natural. And you are definitely not alone in feeling lonely.
If you’re experiencing feelings of loneliness and would like to talk to someone, some helpful organisations are The Samaritans (+44 116 123) Mind (+44 300 303 5999), and The Mix (+44 808 808 4994). For a list of U.S. mental health resources, please click here.
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