How Mental Health is Affected by Living in an Unfamiliar Environment

Moving out of home can have a significant impact on your mental health. When you’re familiar with a certain environment, it brings about a sense of comfort. When you move, the environmental cues in your area that you’re used to will no longer be there to help. Often, this can make individuals feel lost and isolated. Poor mental health during these times can be caused by homesickness. Homesickness refers to the distress that occurs as a result of having to move out of home. Let’s discuss the main elements that cause homesickness. 

The causes of homesickness 

Usually, when people hear the word ‘homesick’, they associate it with children. Perhaps it’s their first day of school and they miss their parents or caregivers. However, adults often get homesick when they leave their homes for extended periods of time too. Here are some common causes of homesickness: 

Changes in identity: A large majority of an individual’s identity is tied to the things that surround them. When they are no longer near the people they love, they may feel a sense of discomfort and isolation. Friends and family often shape a person’s identity, as they have an influence over the persons decisions or actions. Additionally, an individual may not have access to the hobbies and activities that they’re used to. 

Different culture: The beliefs and behaviors of people from different locations can vary drastically. If we are thrown into an area where our values are extremely different from others, we begin to feel isolated. This will make it harder to integrate into a new environment. There may also be different social expectations, such as unfamiliar gestures or greetings. Living somewhere that has different cultural practices or values can create stress as it makes someone feel left out. 

Decreased support base: Being in a new place takes a person away from those who support them. In a new environment, it may be hard to make genuine connections quickly. You can no longer sit down and chat face-to-face to those you love. This may make it more difficult to deal with problems that arise. The grief experienced can also cause increased feelings of loneliness and sadness. 


Common issues faced when living in a new environment 

Homesickness is often the main cause of distress when moving to a new environment. However, there are some other factors that could affect your mental health. 

  • Language barriers: If you’re living in a new country, it may be quite difficult to properly communicate with others. 
  • Discrimination: Individuals may face discrimination or bullying if they struggle to fit in.
  • Decreased convenience: Since the place is unfamiliar, it may be harder to find items, services and events that you’re after. 
  • Making new friends: It can be very stressful and difficult to try to make new friends in an unfamiliar area. 
  • Financial instability: The difficulty of navigating and getting an income in a new city/area creates stress around finances. 


Mental challenges faced when living in a new place 

As mentioned, an individual’s mental state can be significantly impacted when living in a different place. Here are the common mental changes you could experience. 

Loneliness: Feelings of loneliness are caused by a decreased support base. Not knowing anyone in your new area can cause you to isolate and avoid socializing, due to fear or sadness. 

Anxious feelings: Anxiety can increase when you feel lost of displaced. It is often caused by worry or dread of an event or circumstance. An individual may ruminate about made up scenarios, as they lack the control they once had back home. Stress can also stem from the general lack of familiarity to towards the location. 

Fatigue: If you’re living in a new country with a different time zone, mental and physical fatigue are common. This can cause irritability, decreased focus and stress. People can also experience fatigue in a new place that has the same time zone they are used to. This may be caused by the added mental and physical effort needed to adapt to their new environment. 


Dealing with mental challenges while in a new environment 

Each obstacle that living away from home brings causes its own mental challenges. But the good news is, there are many ways in which you can combat these negative feelings. Here are some you can try if you find yourself in a new location. 

Plan ahead: Unfortunately, not all of us have the luxury of planning ahead. A sudden event can force you out of your home or area with little or no warning. However, if you do have the luxury of planning, take advantage of it! Take a couple days to plan out your finances, accommodation/living situation and research your new area. Planning ahead will make you feel more prepared and in control when you arrive. 

Join online communities: The internet is a great place to connect with others. Use social media platforms to help you find likeminded individuals in your area. If you’re in a different country, you could even try to find people from your hometown that are also living abroad. You’ll be surprised at just how many connections you can make by simply searching for groups online! Finding people with common interests will also help you to feel a greater sense of belonging. 

Find comfort in the area: When in a new location, we may miss the small places that we found comfort in. Perhaps we always sat at the same coffee shop or took a walk in the same park every day. Explore your new area and become more familiar with your surroundings. Find a place you like and visit it often. Soon, that place will become the predictable and stable environment that you longed for. 

Keep in touch with loved ones back home: Even though you won’t be able to meet them face to face, make sure to allocate sufficient time to communicate with them. Ideally, set up regular video calls in order to catch up and feel more connected. Video calling is much more effective in decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation than texting is. There are many things you can do on video calls such as watch movies together, play online games or simply just enjoy some good conversation. 

Put yourself out there: Even though it may be hard at first, involving yourself in community events will improve your mental health. It will also make you become more familiar about the culture of your new environment. This will help you to become more integrated in your new area. Going to community events is also a great way to make new friendships and connections. If you are genuinely interested in meeting new people and learning about the new culture, you’ll form genuine connections with others. Try to also get to know and befriend neighbors in your immediate area, to strengthen your sense of community. 

Look after yourself: This one may sound obvious, but it’s often forgotten when in a new environment. If you don’t practice essential self-care practices such as getting enough sleep, nutritious food and water, you won’t be about to thrive in your new environment. You should also exercise daily, whether that involves going to the gym if it’s available, or simply taking a walk in your area. Practicing self-care will ensure that you’re in the right head space in order to live happily in your new environment. 


Positive changes from living in a new place

Of course, we will face a range of difficulties when moving to a new location, however, there are many mental health benefits of living in a new area. It is often a time when individuals push their boundaries and surprise themselves with their own abilities. Here are a few benefits you may experience: 

Become more open minded: Constantly living in a comfortable and familiar location can narrow your world views and perspectives. If you are exposed to different people, ideas and places, you’ll learn more about the world and consider new perspectives. You may encounter viewpoints you’ve never considered before. Additionally, associating with those who are different from you can increase your ability to feel empathy and compassion. 

Increased adaptability: The only way to get better at something is to expose yourself to it. Taking a risk (willingly or unwillingly), will allow you to become more flexible and decrease your resistance to change. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort some will also give you greater self-confidence. You’ll become more able to do things in unfamiliar ways and easily adjust to new situations in the future. 

Increased responsibility: When you’re living in a new place, you are forced to be more responsible and organized. You can no longer rely on the people, circumstances or situations you once used to. You are entirely responsible for yourself. Living away from home will enable you to become more self-sufficient and reliable. You will also become a better problem solver. 

There are many challenges of living in a new area, but all of them will make you stronger and more resilient as a person. 


Angelina de Jesus Solomon ©️2020


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  • Ilvin Rivera on

    This was a very interesting read. I was always curious in knowing what someone goes through when moving to a different country. Thank you for sharing you experience.

  • Jamie Solomon on


    This is an awesome article!! It really captures the challenges of being in a new and unfamiliar environment. Truly outstanding job!

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