Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person takes a break from moving

7 Ways to Survive a Move as a Highly Sensitive Person

Moving can be overwhelming for anyone. Yet with a few tools in place — like taking breaks to recharge — you can survive a move as an HSP.

For a lot of people, the idea of moving brings with it promises of new beginnings, new adventures, and new opportunities. And while all of these are arguably true, for the nearly 30 percent of the population who identify as highly sensitive, moving can evoke a host of other, not- so-pleasant emotions. The fear of the unknown, the trepidation of having to acclimate to a new environment, and the overwhelming anxiety that results from heightened stress are often all a part of a highly sensitive person’s preparation for a move. 

While in the bookstore the other day, I found myself picking up Baseball for Dummies. My idea was that in choosing a topic I was completely unfamiliar with, it would help me to ascertain the effectiveness of the book. I was pleasantly shocked at how easily I was able to understand the verbiage. While I can’t say I’ll be tuning in to a baseball game any time soon, I’ll admit that it is remarkable what we can learn when concepts are broken down and explained in an easy, digestible way!

We Need More ‘Manuals’ for Highly Sensitive People

With that book fresh on my mind, something struck me: What if there were manuals that helped highly sensitive people maneuver our way through various life experiences? What if we had a selection of “how to” guides to help us navigate and course our paths through those overwhelming situations in life? 

The brainstorming began. I began ruminating on some of the more difficult situations I have faced as a highly sensitive person. As I mentally sifted through my mental catalog, one event kept jumping out at me: Moving.

Having just experienced one of the most intense, anxiety-filled, and time cramped moves I’ve ever gone through, I wanted to offer all of you — my highly sensitive friends — a few pointers. I believe they’ll be helpful toward easing the discomforts of a move. I may not be able to quell all of your trepidation, but  hopefully applying some of these tips will help your next move to be a bit smoother.

7 Ways to Survive a Move as a Highly Sensitive Person

1. Make sure you have secured a new place to move into.

Back in February, a family driving by our home contacted the realtor who had sold us the house and expressed interest. Our house was not on the market. Two days after that initial call, a showing was set up, the family made a cash offer, and the rest is history. 

Cool story, right? 

Sure. 

Right up until two weeks before the movers were set to come, and we still hadn’t found anywhere to live. Imagine trying to convince two extremely intuitive, highly sensitive children that everything would be okay as you encourage them to pack up their rooms to go… God knows where. 

Luckily, we were able to locate a rental and signed our lease exactly one week before the movers came. My highly sensitive mind was in high sensory overload, feeling out of control, having chaotic thoughts, and feeling depleted, both mentally and physically. My empathetic, highly sensitive self combatted my own emotions while also soaking up the fear and anxiety of my husband and children’s. I was in an emotional tailspin, but it was vital for me to portray the image of “having it all together” to my family members. Sacrificing my internal peace seemed a small price to pay to insure that my state of mind wouldn’t have an adverse affect on my family members. We were in the middle of a move, yet I felt stuck in a mental storage unit. 

HSPs do not fare well in high-stress, unpredictable situations. Uncertainty causes anxiety, and this can contribute to a spiral down the rabbit hole of overwhelm. Not knowing where we were moving had triggered my high stress response, and I wasn’t able to decompress and hop out of that rabbit hole until we figured out where we were going. 

2. Use labels to increase organization (something HSPs love). 

HSPs function best in an organized environment, even if only they understand that organizational system. Knowing the “whats” and “hows” enable us to have a sense of control, as losing control causes our anxiety to soar

To help maintain a positive environment when moving with an HSP, develop a system for packing and clearly labeling boxes to be moved. For example, writing “kitchen” on the boxes to be moved into the kitchen helps movers, friends who help you move, and you to better identify where items should be placed. I know this may be a given, but it may be tempting for some people to just hurriedly pack things in any box if it’s getting down to the wire… but trust me, labeling will save you more time in the long run. And the more specific your labels, the better.

Although we didn’t initially have a physical address to move to, I was committed to packing up our home in an organized way. Everyone in our house was tasked with packing up their bedroom and helping to pack up common areas in the house. Each room and its contents were clearly labeled, as to take out the guesswork for both us and the movers. Keeping things organized makes for a smoother moving experience and helps to keep our highly sensitive emotions in a balanced state.

3. Hire professional movers if you can.

Once you’ve packed and labeled everything, the next step is actually preparing to transport your belongings to your new residence. Hiring professional movers helps to alleviate a lot of stress during a move, especially from the physical standpoint. Movers are more skilled in transporting items most people are not, know how to load and unload boxes safely, and are beneficial to people who — for whatever reasons — are unable to handle a move on their own. Plus, there are all kinds of moving companies out there and you can probably find a good deal if you shop around.

While renting a truck and doing it yourself may seem more cost-effective, many charge by the mile (which quickly adds up), and you may need to make multiple trips, too (which won’t save you time — and time is money). So investing in movers will likely be more worthwhile.

4. Make a moving checklist that’s as detailed as possible.

Sensitive people don’t like feeling rushed. In fact, time pressure can cause an HSP’s anxiety to rise. Overstimulation affects HSPs differently than it does those who don’t identify as highly sensitive, and operating under cramped time restraints can greatly overwhelm highly sensitive people.

To combat this, a great tool for HSPs to use is a moving checklist. It contributes to organization and offers a visual tool to ensure that all components of a move are taken care of, from making sure you check those tiny cabinets you rarely used to remembering to forward your mail. When your brain is busy trying to process moving, parenting, working, and life in general, having a list helps to save time from trying to recall items from memory.

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5. Eat! No one wants to get “hangry” (hungry + angry).

When a highly sensitive person is in pain, or is anxious, confused, or overstimulated, it is difficult to concentrate on anything outside of those feelings. That same difficulty to concentrate applies to hunger. 

For HSPs, there is a fine line between feeling a bit hungry and then waiting too long and crossing over into being hangry (hungry + angry). An empty stomach affects everything from your mood to your ability to physically function. During a move, when an HSP neglects their need to eat and becomes hangry, it is nearly impossible to focus on the things that need to be taken care of to insure a successful move until that hangriness is satiated. (I speak from experience here.)

To prevent this, make sure to have snacks and water on hand during the move. Leave bottles of water, bags of nuts, or pieces of whole fruit on the counter or in the refrigerator (if it hasn’t been moved) so that when hunger pangs strike, you can quickly resolve them. While some disasters are unavoidable, dealing with a hangry and overwhelmed HSP can be curtailed.

6. Schedule breaks, which are essential for HSPs anytime, but especially during a move.

Moving can be overwhelming for anyone, but especially for HSPs: emotions rise, time flies by, and there is just so… much… to… do. Yet, in the midst of all of the “stuff,” it’s paramount that we schedule time to breathe. HSPs require time to recharge: interaction with family, movers, and delivery people can take its toll on us. It’s vital to make sure to schedule a moment here and there to steal away and regroup so that your mental and physical health aren’t compromised. 

That moment may be five minutes in an empty closet, just breathing. Or it may be 10 minutes outside in the grass, grounding yourself and decompressing. But whatever a break looks like for you, make sure you are allowing yourself that time. For me, I found that a 10-15 minute walk around the neighborhood with my dog worked wonders.

Also, please remember: Don’t beat yourself up for needing that break. You aren’t letting your family down by taking care of yourself. Your family knows and accepts you and your highly sensitive needs. When stressed or overwhelmed, communicate where you are and what you need to the people around you. Rely on your support system. They understand that you need time to recharge, and they love you enough to be patient with you. 

Allow yourself the permission to physically check out. Acknowledge that everything doesn’t have to go perfectly, and you are doing the very best you can. And that’s more than enough. 

7. Give yourself grace and practice self-care.

Along with taking breaks, it’s important to be kind to yourself and practice self-care. One of the most important and beautiful things HSP can offer themselves is grace, and this is of the utmost importance during a move. When things aren’t going as smoothly as you’d wished they were, remember — watch your thoughts, and choose gentler words to say to yourself.

As a gentle reminder, you don’t have to overlook your sanity to hold things together. That was my misguided plan during our most recent move. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t have to be the emotional sacrificial lamb for my family. In fact, it was during those tumultuous times that I could have better served both myself and them by turning toward them for support and being a kinder friend to myself, rather than pretending to be okay. But somewhere in the matrix of the unknown, I allowed myself to forget that. 

As a highly sensitive person, moving can be downright terrifying. Moving introduces many uncertain factors: unknown places and people, chaotic disorder, and that underlying nagging feeling of what could go wrong.

Thankfully, we have some tools at our disposal — not to mention our HSP resilience — to help ease the internal and external turmoil our highly sensitive minds experience during a move. Take a deep breath, make a plan, and take the advice of the late basketball coach Pat Summitt, “left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat.” And then get moving!

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