Your question: Why do I feel anxious about moving out of my parents’ house?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. I am writing this to tell you about a common problem, anxiety related to moving out of the parental home, one of the biggest concerns adults experience.

Anxiety is an unpleasant experience and at the same time, it is an inevitable part of life. Any change, whether big or small, implies a process of adjustment and adaptation in our lives. Many times, the mind plays tricks on us, and the catastrophic scenarios we create in our imagination are worse than what is actually going to happen. Moving out of the parental home is possibly the biggest step of independence we take when we become adults. “Leaving the nest” involves natural anxiety because there are different concerns that flood our minds: will our parents be okay, how will we adjust to living without them, are we truly ready for independence? All these questions will remain unanswered until after we take the plunge.

Therefore, it is necessary to prepare ourselves mentally before this change happens. The mind, like any muscle in the body, can be trained to cope with naturally distressing processes in adult life. Moving out of the family home generates anxiety because it divides us between two concerns: our parents and ourselves. We spend years imagining the moment when we will finally leave our home, but when the time finally comes, fear paralyzes us.

The “talk” with your parents

You may initially feel anxious about simply telling your parents that you plan to move out of your home soon. You know them better than anyone else in the world. We love our parents but sometimes they can be an emotional worry. At the same time, you can imagine multiple scenes, one more dramatic than the last, in which your parents react devastated by the news, and for fear of hurting them, you postpone the move as long as possible.

The first suggestion I give you is honesty, both with your parents and with yourself. Those of us who work with cognitive behavioral therapy believe that our thoughts and ideas about our reality determine our emotions and behaviors, therefore, acting based on our ideas about things that have not happened is a waste of time.

You can practice as long as you want what you will tell your parents. You can tell them at home if you want more privacy, or at a restaurant if you think they will take it as a celebration. Either way, it’s not easy for any parent to see a child leave home. The “empty nest” causes anxiety and stress in parents, almost as if it were a grieving process (1).

By being honest about what you will say, you can make it clear to your parents that the move does not change the family bond they have built. You will have the opportunity to visit them or stay in touch by phone. It is a new chapter in your family relationship. Putting it this way will make the process easier for both you and your parents, although tears before, during and after the move will be inevitable.

The “talk” with yourself 

Sometimes our parents can take the news of the move better than we can ourselves. Anxiety is inevitable because we feel devastated about “leaving” our parents and/or because we are overwhelmed by all the responsibilities we will now have in our home, whether we are moving alone or as a couple.

Regulating anxiety is not easy, but not impossible. When anxiety episodes overwhelm you with worry related to the move, you can apply the “guided imagery” technique.

In this exercise, in addition to inhaling and exhaling slowly, you will close your eyes, and visualize a scenario that generates calm and happiness, and distracts you from the negative thoughts that come with anxiety. It can be a beach, a mountainous landscape or even a pleasant memory. 

You will apply this when you start to feel the anxiety episode and the associated urge to cry. This technique takes time and training, so don’t worry if you initially feel that it doesn’t work for you. You need to be patient and try to vary the relaxing mental scenarios so that you don’t get “bored” and it loses its effect.

A recommendation would be to look at pictures of landscapes until you find one that you like. You could even print it and watch it until you draw it in your mind when you close your eyes (2).

Another recommendation is to make a list of all the things we need to do in the moving process. From what to buy (kitchen utensils, appliances and more) to the necessary legal and economic procedures. Organizing all these things is complicated, but an effective way to do it is through the hierarchy of needs.

After listing everything you need to do, rate each item on the list in a number from 1 to 20, the higher the number, the more urgent and priority is that item. This way you will know what things to do more urgently. You can ask your parents or friends who live independently how their experience was, they will give you useful tips on what things are more urgent than others.

In my experience…

Finally, I must remind you that all changes we make in life will involve a process of trial and error. You will feel fear and anxiety throughout the process of moving out of your parents’ home, but you will also feel the gratification of taking steps forward in your adult life, seeking independence and comfort.

Remember that we all can improve our psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression we feel that we are hopeless. We can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. Apply the techniques at your own pace and I am confident that you will gradually improve. It was a pleasure to write to you.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!