Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person feelings unsettled from moving.

Why Is Moving to a New Home So Unsettling for Highly Sensitive People?

A version of this article was originally published on Introvert, Dear.

According to the clock on the microwave, it was just past two in the morning. I stood in the entryway of my new home, clad in my pajamas and holding the bag of chocolates my parents had given me in an attempt to settle my nerves. I wandered through each room aimlessly, feeling disconnected and thoroughly lost. Though only 1,200 square feet, the house seemed to be endless.

I was nine years old; introverted, anxious, and highly sensitive — and my entire world had been turned upside down.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, it’s easy to see why it took me so much longer than the rest of my family to adjust to our new home and city. And yet, even armed with that knowledge, I didn’t expect to have any of the same issues when I moved out of my parents’ home as a young adult.

Spoiler alert: I absolutely did.

I cheerfully picked out an apartment, packed up my belongings, and immediately set about making my new home a place I could call my own. But on that first night, as I lay in bed in a room that felt too big, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and smells, the anxiety began to creep in. Again, I found myself wandering, submerged in a sea of emotions — and this time I had done it to myself.

But, as with so many things I’ve googled when wondering what the hell is wrong with me, these feelings surrounding a move are not uncommon to highly sensitive people. Research suggests that everyone is susceptible to feeling miserable after a move. But because HSPs process experiences more deeply than others, for many of them, moving is extremely unsettling.

Let’s explore the specifics behind why moving can be overwhelming for HSPs, plus how to make your next (or current) move easier.

Why Is Moving So Unsettling for HSPs?

As highly sensitive people, we crave the feeling of comfort and familiarity in our everyday environment. For this reason, even “fun” things like traveling or taking a vacation can be extraordinarily stressful.

It’s a similar story when it comes to moving to a new home. Moving brings up a veritable smorgasbord of emotions. Our homes are attached to our wellbeing, and physically tearing ourselves away from them may cause feelings of sadness, regret, frustration, and anger.

Melody Warnick, author of the book, This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, explains that this is called “place attachment,” which is “the feeling of belonging and rootedness where you live.” It takes a while to create place attachment, and we often feel unhappy until we do.

In other words, it’s completely normal to feel upset after a move.

Getting used to a brand new house, where things feel, sound, and look different, can also be very difficult. Your former home, neighborhood, and familiar places kept you centered, and now you may feel unanchored, set adrift. For all intents and purposes, moving leads to a grieving process of sorts.

There’s also quite a bit of overwhelm and exhaustion that comes with moving. You have to go through the entire rigamoroll of buying a home or renting an apartment, logistically plan the entire process from beginning to end, pack all your worldly belongings into boxes, and actually move heavy items from one place to another. There’s so much multitasking, hurry, and commotion about that it’s incredibly easy to become completely overwhelmed. Moving takes a lot of energy — and it doesn’t offer many opportunities for HSPs to recharge.

When highly sensitive people are deprived of the opportunity for emotional quiet, the “fight or flight” response can kick in and hinder the ability to settle into a new environment. If this goes on for too long, anxiety can rear its ugly head.

Fortunately, this anxiety is a temporary response to feeling overwhelmed. It will clear up as you become more comfortable in your new life.

How You Can Make a Move Easier

Now that we know why moving can be so hard on HSPs, let’s look at a five ways to make the process less painful:

  1. Give yourself ample time to physically, mentally, and emotionally prepare for the move. Make a list of the good things that will result from the move, as well as a list of things that worry you and how you might mitigate them.
  2. Take time during the move for downtime. This will help to replenish your energy stores, as well as prevent emotional flooding and burnout.
  3. Clutter and general disarray can make the anxiety of being in a new place worse. Unpack as quickly as you can to add a sense of familiarity to your new home.
  4. A study found that people who had recently moved spent less time on leisure activities and more time on the computer (presumably staying in contact with friends and family back home) than people who had stayed put. After a move, resist the urge to hunker down. Go for a walk and explore your new neighborhood. Say yes to some social invitations. Do the activities that made you happy in your old place. The sooner you create a new bond of place attachment, the better you’ll feel.
  5. Finally, if at all possible, take a day or two off after you’re fully moved to settle into your new home. Having just gone through a major transition, you’ll need some time to put down roots before going back to your usual schedule.

Moving is stressful, especially for those of us who are highly sensitive. However, by preparing yourself ahead of time, finding quiet moments to recharge, and allowing yourself to process your emotions, you can take some of the sting out of the move.

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