In the Shadow of the Mouse: Relocation Stress in Orlando, Florida

By: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

Ah yes…Orlando, Florida, the land of dreams. A place where the magic of Disney permeates the community; where residents sing instead of talk, where children laugh and play without fear, where bluebirds regularly land on our shoulders. This is the city of hope and joy; where each person cares about the other; where hugs are frequent and neighbors are prized. Yes, Orlando is the happiest place on earth…or so I thought before I moved here.

However, for many who have moved to Orlando, the transition has been anything but joyful. When our expectations are high our disappointments, when those expectations are unmet, can often shake us to the core. That is what commonly happens to new residents of Orlando. In reality, many people who move here find Orlando to be disconnected, uncaring, and angry. In fact, a 2006 article by “Men’s Health” ranked Orlando as the #1 angriest city in America. That may shock those of you who live elsewhere but, to those of us who live here, it is no surprise. The traffic here is maddening. Our city combines tourists, retirees, those from other countries, unpredictable weather and constant new residents, resulting in very dangerous driving patterns. New residents often find it difficult to connect with people, maybe for the first time in their lives. This can lead to depression, loneliness and a feeling that one does not belong. In speaking with those who struggle here I have found that Orlando is regarded as “too slow” by many who come from the larger cities such as New York or Boston and yet it is “too fast and urban” for many who move from the Midwest. The transient nature of the city also factors into the difficulties. People move in and out of Orlando so often that it makes building connections much more complicated. Just when a person believes they know their neighbors and that he is building a social network those friends often relocate to another city or return to their home of origin. Because of the constant changes in social dynamics people are, in many instances, more leery of beginning friendships that go beyond the superficial. Frequently, people become callous because of losing so many friends over the years and, therefore, become less likely to expose themselves to that hurt again. Consequently, relationships here can be shallow, leaving people feeling empty more than connected.

So, yes, we have Disney and Universal Studios and Sea World and so much more for those who travel here on vacation; but for those who relocate here it is often a struggle.

Truth be told, this was my experience in moving here. Coming from a small town in Ohio I was used to connecting with ease. Back in Ohio we basically wave at everybody, whether we know them or not (a habit that has garnered me several strange looks in this city). People tend to have deep roots in the Midwest and so we lean towards being more laid back and interested in building long-term relationships. When I moved to Orlando, I knew it would take some time to establish myself but I assumed that it would be just as easy to fit in here as it had always been elsewhere. I was wrong. For years I hated Orlando. That’s the honest truth. I found Orlando to be unfriendly and too urban and fast-paced for my liking. Connecting with people in a meaningful way felt impossible which was all very new to me. There were so many times that I wanted to “get while the getting was good.” But God had other ideas. He kept me here and began to show me the way. He began to lead me into connection. Doors opened for me in my career and ministry that can only be described as oases in the desert. That was a huge step; finding a place to plug-in as far as ministry. But I still felt lonely and disliked living here. I told God as such….several times…….but He was patient with my complaining. What finally broke for me in this struggle for connection was that my family and I plugged in to our local Little League program. I began to coach my son’s team and also became one of the league’s umpires. I love baseball and began meeting people who loved it as well. From that league we began an adult softball league, which was also a passion of mine in Ohio. I began to meet more and more like-minded individuals and awesome families. It was amazing because most of them would tell us that they felt the same way we did, disconnected and lonely, until they joined this community league.

Now, years later, I have grown to love our community. I still hate the hot summers here, mind you, and I miss the fall and winter weather from up north (I know……I’m insane). However, my family has a place now…….and we have begun to build really solid friendships with some great families. Finally…Orlando feels like home.
But enough about me.

Over the years I have met more and more people who feel the same; out of touch, disconnected, lonely and depressed. Maybe you are one of those people. Relocating to Orlando can be very stressful, in spite of “The Mouse.” Let me offer some tips that I hope help you in this journey:

Realize that you are not alone: It can feel that way here. Families can suddenly feel that they are unlovable or that they are the only ones who cannot seem to make friends here. It’s not true. In my counseling and even in my personal life I have met SO MANY people who feel the same way. You are in good company.

Don’t take it personally: Because there are lots of people dealing with the same types of relocation stress you must realize that it isn’t primarily about you. The dynamics of Orlando can lead one to begin to doubt themselves, as if something is wrong with them. Don’t buy into that. The truth is that what you’re feeling has far more to do with the characteristics presented in this article than it does about you personally.

Be sensitive to your family: One thing I have found in my practice is that children and teenagers especially struggle when they move here. I have seen the same scenario played out again and again: Dad moves here for a new job and the majority of his time goes into that. Mom does her best to get the household in order but is also dealing with loneliness and a general feeling of being overwhelmed. In the midst of this, the parents don’t realize that their kids are experiencing the same difficult emotions that come from relocation stress and often have a more difficult time dealing with them. Kids don’t always know how to express those kinds of emotions and so they act out. Their grades drop for the first time ever, they become more isolated, their attitude becomes more belligerent, and they pull away from the family. Many times the parents chock this up to just being part of “the teen years” or a phase their kids are going through. Parents sometimes minimize the problem even as their kids are deeply struggling from the move. Over time, the kids start seeking out relief in various unhealthy forms and then the whole family has a big problem. It is a painful thing to watch. If you have moved to Orlando or are planning to, please have a plan for helping your kids with the move. Keep communication lines open and realize that kids struggle more than they let on. Don’t allow relocation stress to destroy your family.

Seek out natural connection points: My hope is that you implement these strategies sooner than I did. Begin immediately to look for places where everyone in the family can connect. The way to do that is to seek out activities and groups that are interested in the same things you are. For me, it was our local Little League. Have a family discussion about what yours might be. If you like camping, check out the Boy Scouts. Find a way to get your kids into the sports they have always loved. Find a church home that feels like a place you could connect with others. Join a gym. Whatever the specifics are, find a place where you can find connection with others who enjoy the things you do. A great place to look for those kinds of groups is on www.

Expect it to take time: You must have realistic expectations when you move here. This was difficult for me. I had never had a problem in connecting with others so I expected Orlando to be no different. It’s not. The dynamics are far different here so expect it to take you longer than usual to build those connections. If it doesn’t take long, WONDERFUL, but set your expectations in a way that doesn’t lead to frustration and depression. If the stress overwhelms you or a member of your family, seek out a good counselor or life coach who can lead you on this path.

So is Orlando a preview of what Hades might be like? I thought so for a while. But it’s not. If you follow these tips, Orlando can become your new home before you know it. So, c’mon down! The Mouse is waiting.


Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit or call us at 407-647-7005.

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