When you move to a new area, it’s easy to feel like an outsider. This is especially true if you’re moving to a small town in your 20s or 30s. You probably won’t know anyone at first, and you may feel different from the people who’ve lived there all their lives. Maybe you don’t feel like you fit in.
As an anxiety therapist, I see a lot of clients who are in this position. Many millennials get relocated for work – or just want to try out a different pace of life – and don’t know how to adjust to life in a rural area.
There is an adjustment period with any move, and moving to a small town is no different. It’s normal to be afraid of the unknown and worry about not fitting in. It takes time to get comfortable and feel at home in a new place.
Small towns pose specific challenges, however. This is especially true if you’re a perfectionist and afraid of “failing” your move, or if you already struggle with anxiety. Here are 4 ways to overcome those challenges and adjust to life in a rural area.
In a bigger city, it’s easier to stay anonymous among the crowds. In a smaller town, though, it’s easy to feel like you stand out extra. You might feel very visible at first, and the likelihood is that people are noticing you. You’re a newcomer, after all. You’ll likely find you run into the same people over and over – at the grocery store, for example, or walking down the street.
Many of my clients enjoy seeing familiar faces on a regular basis. However, it can also feel awkward or uncomfortable if you are introverted or prefer not to make small talk with acquaintances.
It’s up to you how much you interact with the people around you. But if you keep to yourself entirely, you’re much more likely to feel lonely and have increased mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Be open-minded about the people you run into and the interactions you have. It’s true there may be some people who are biased against you based on where you came from or the fact that you didn’t grow up in the area. And I get it – being treated like an outsider can feel extremely hostile and lead to a lot of anxiety. After all, you’re already in a vulnerable position because you still don’t know anyone and are learning the lay of the land. But trust that most people you meet don’t want to treat you like shit. Instead, they want you to feel welcome and comfortable.
To break the ice, get to know your neighbors and let them get to know you. Ask them questions. Neighborly friendliness in a small town goes a long way. They will appreciate you reaching out and will likely respond in kind. Even if you disagree with their politics or you don’t feel like you have anything in common with them, many people in small towns care about their communities and neighbors. Just because you don’t like someone’s politics doesn’t mean they won’t make a good, kind neighbor. Try not to judge others you meet, just as you wouldn’t want them to judge you.
Getting involved in a community is the best way to meet new people and feel like you’re part of a team. Plus, getting involved helps you focus on what you actually have control of – your own behavior and actions. Try volunteering for a local event or fundraiser. Or help out at a soup kitchen or an animal shelter. People in small towns tend to appreciate community effort, and they’re more likely to warm to you quickly if they see you making an effort to help out.
And if there’s something you want in your town but it doesn’t exist there yet, you can help create it. Being engaged in your community will help you feel purposeful and is a great way to meet friends.
Find like-minded people by seeking out classes and groups to join. Be active in the community and find hobbies you enjoy. Getting involved with local activities will make you feel more at home and is a great way to make new friends.
Finding new friends – and people to date – in a new small town can be different from finding those same people in a new city. Cities have more resources, more activities, and more hangout spots to go check out. But the good news is that in small towns, you’re likely to run into new acquaintances more often. This can lead to blossoming friendships that happen organically.
Don’t be afraid to seek out friendships with other newcomers. Small towns are growing in popularity, particularly in the west and the south. Chances are, there are plenty of other people who are newer to town as well. Just like you, they’re also trying to adjust to a new life there. And just like you, they’re likely also trying to make friends.
Small towns are very different from big cities, but there are a lot of benefits to living in a rural area. There’s often easier access to nature, for example, and small towns tend to be safer and cheaper. It’s much easier to go for a hike or run into people you know.
Rural areas also tend to be quieter than big cities. If you’re used to city lights and sounds, this can take some getting used to. However, you might find you love listening to the chirping of crickets, the breeze through the trees, and being able to see the stars at night.
You may just find you enjoy a slower pace with less hustle and bustle.
If you’re worried about moving to a small town in your 20s or 30s, consider therapy. I can help you balance the fear of the unknown, navigate finding friends and likeminded peers in a small town, and learn how to feel at home in a rural area. You’ll learn skills and coping tools to step confidently into the world as one of many millennials moving to small towns.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.