Relocation Stress Syndrome

by Colleen Smart

Just the word ‘move’ can tie us up in knots. The young, the elderly, the children – even pets and plants, respond with an anxious tremble at the thought of moving to a new place. Whether we’re making a local change or we’re relocating to a brand new environment and life style, moving stirs up a pot full of charged emotions.

We expect to experience the ‘normal’ stress responses like muscle tension, headaches, anxiety and insomnia. But prolonged or intensive stress during a home transition can lead to Relocation Stress Syndrome, also referred to as Transition Trauma.

Relocation Stress Syndrome, [RSS] was recognized as an official diagnosis in 1992 and is defined as the physiologic and psychological disturbances that result from transfer from one home environment to another. (Certified Relocation & Transition Specialist Manual). The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale ranks moving third, behind the death of a spouse and divorce.

RSS symptoms include depression, anxiety, withdrawal and confusion, which can last from several months to over a year. RSS can affect anyone, even the most competent and capable people. Interestingly, research shows that seniors may take longer to adjust than younger people.

There are many variables that can contribute to RSS. One of the key factors is the feeling of ‘loss.’ For seniors in their retirement years, much of their comfort is derived from familiar routines, especially those that involve their family and friends.

This is a critical time for family and friends to make sure they are available to share a walk through the new community or to have lunch at an old favourite restaurant. Their presence and reassurance will eventually help restore confidence that the connection with friends and family is not lost.  Remember --- a good cry is okay and a good laugh is even better to help relieve stress.

Another factor contributing to RSS is the ‘loss of control.’ Letting go of possessions as well as allowing others to manage financial, legal and medical issues can be a challenging process – more decisions that must be weighed and shared with others. Even a simple decision, like when to eat lunch, may be lost if the move is to a community where meals are provided

The most effective plan is for seniors, their families and their new communities to work together to create collaborative plans that promote senior autonomy. “RSS is generally experienced until a sense of control is regained.” (CRTS)

Research shows that the amount of preparation and the degree and type of support before, during and after the move directly affects the level and intensity of RSS.

A smart option for seniors and their families is to hire a Senior Move Manager, who understands the specific demands of the move and more importantly, the personal and unique concerns and wishes of the seniors.

Colleen Smart is a Certified Senior Advisor and a Professional Organizer who focuses specifically on seniors. You can find more information about these organizations on the Daybreak website under

  • For more information, please contact Colleen Smart, President - Daybreak Moving Solutions for Seniors, 604-922-2458

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