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I JUST WANNA BE OUTSIDE: The Impact of Living Environments on Highly Sensitive Empaths.

A few months ago I felt something in me that I’d never experienced before. It was hard to describe this feeling but I wrote on my white board "I need to expand"

I didn't know what this need for expansion was referring to. Was it telling me I needed to grow as a person? Did I need to extend myself to new experiences? Or was something big coming?

I sat with this message all day, and by the evening, it hit me! The realization came to me that, I needed to be outside.

Outside was where I could look up toward the sky and see infinite possibilities and where I could look out on to the horizon of my future self, while also digging into the ground as far as I could to feel my roots.

I suppose what i’m describing is the opposite of someone who feels agoraphobic. I needed a place without walls, because being indoors was making me feel claustrophobic.

Where I was living had a roof top deck, but living on a busy downtown street just wasn’t cutting it for me. I guess I was feeling ungrounded and I needed to have my feet on the ground. My quick fix for this is to go for a walk in the forest, be around the trees and feel my feet connecting with the earth. That always brought me back to feel grounded and at home. But the forest wasn’t my home, so having to go back home made me feel trapped again.

A few months later I moved out of that busy, loud and chaotic downtown and into a new neighbourhood. Now I had a bungalow with a lush backyard of trees and plants. It was at this time that it was clear to me, highly empathic people, especially those who are closely connected to the earth, trees, nature and animals need to be closer to the ground instead of hundreds of feet up.

This being outside thing was making sense to me now.

Being outside with nature always gives me a sense of inclusion, acceptance and oneness. Being inside with my things is nice, but all I would ever do while living in places that were not at ground level, was stand there and look out the window.

I’ve lived in many different places over the years, from having just a room with a shared kitchen and bathroom in a house. Living in basements with little to no natural light. Owning a house with a big property, apartment living, lofts and now this cute bungalow.

Basement living was rough for me because of the lack of light. I've read that humans are not meant to live underground. There is a sense of suppression and regression living below ground level, while not being able to have a sense of what's going on up there. Without substantial amounts of natural light, it's easy to have a misconception of what time of day it is.

Apartment living also came with it’s own challenges. Being up too high had me feeling ungrounded and disconnected from what was happening at ground level too. I'd pull into my underground parking spot and lose all sense of the outside world. I'd get into an enclosed elevator and then arrive on a floor where i'd then walk down a hallway, to eventually arrive at a door in a wall, that I'd open up into my living space. I was starting to realize that when I wanted to get back to ground level, I'd have to go through 4 or 5 doors first before that could happen.

As our population increases, the earth only has so much space suitable for residential living, and most people prefer the convenience of being close to amenities, while others don't mind being out in rural areas. The thing is that rural areas don't experience such increases to the population as we do in cities.

A Little History on High Rises

Following WWII during the baby boom is when the first apartment buildings were established in North America. Although they did have up to 10 story buildings during Ancient Roman times, the structures were not as stable the higher up the stories went. The lower floors were typically occupied by either shops or wealthy families, while the upper stories were rented out to the lower classes. Even in the 16th century, Cairo had high-rise apartment buildings where the two lower floors were for commercial and storage purposes and the multiple stories above them were rented out to tenants. Residential tower complexes are common in Asian countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Pakistan, Iran and South Korea, as urban densities are very high. In Singapore and urban Hong Kong, land prices are so high that a large portion of the population lives in high-rise apartments. In fact, over 60% of Hong Kong residents live in apartments, many of them condominiums.

Land has become an important commodity meaning that it's cheaper to live above land in a high rise. Many of these highrises also connect to shopping and groceries and entertainment. Gosh! You don't even need to leave the physical constraints of a building to have all of your needs met. But what is really going on here is a deprivation of needs. For highly sensitive people we need to experience connection to our earth, it's sky, sun, stars, and moon. We need to live amongst the natural elements of our world, and less of the man made structures.

After I sold my house and had to give up living at ground level, I moved into an apartment building on the 13th floor. Now this was probably the nicest condominium in the city with floor to ceiling windows, and near 20 foot ceilings. There was a sense of expansiveness in that way, but I knew I would be starved for the outdoors, so I bought a living wall. This wooden framed box that I hung on my wall held 80 plants and created a sense of the outdoors.

I’m a plant empath, an earth empath and a highly sensitive person. I need the earths frequency to feel at my best.

Let’s look at what the research says about how important living environments are for highly sensitive people and empaths.

Because we are sensitive to energy, we are often more attuned to the subtle energy and emotions in our surroundings. In a high rise we may hear sounds from the units next to us, above and below and even be attuned enough to hear people walking through the hallways. For some of us this can lead to a feeling of overwhelm depending on how sensitive we are to sounds and picking up on the feelings of other people, even if we can't see them.

I used to rent out the basement unit of my house for a few years before I eventually moved and every single tenant came with their own energy that I could feel. Sound also travelled through the vents so if I was sitting in silence in my home, I would hear the tenant's tv, music, talking and you name it! Sometimes I felt like I was invading their privacy that's how much I could hear. It was also a huge distraction for me. One tenant had a 2 year old and every day without fail he’d scream his lungs out for a few hours before bed. That was very stressful to my nervous system. Most times I'd put on some music to drowned out the sounds.

Which brings me to the next point being noise and sensory overload. High rises are often placed in high traffic areas. I’ve never heard so many sirens, motorcycle engines and people yelling in the streets as I did when I lived in an apartment. Over time this can lead to increased stress and reduced overall well-being. I can say that i absolutely experienced this slowly over a period of 3 years.

When I finally made the decision to move out of the downtown I realized the impact that all of the sounds were having on my already sensitive nervous system. This is because we are processing things on a deeper level than most. There’s always more for us to take in. More sounds, more vibrations, more sensitivities and more sensations. Cause we’re like sponges, we take it all in.

Another concern is privacy. The majority of highly sensitive people are introverted and prefer to keep to themselves. That means we really like to spend time at home, it’s our sanctuary! Although I loved the condo for it's huge windows, this turned out to be a huge issue for privacy. What good was having these windows if I couldn't even keep my blinds open to enjoy the light outside when the condo units on the other side could see right in!

So back to the forests, but I noticed I wasn’t getting to them as much any more. It was almost like I didn’t want to enjoy something so nice that wasn’t permanent. I'd bathe myself in there for hours to only return home to the concrete jungle.

And yes many people in condos prefer this way of living for their own reasons, whether it be due to not having to maintain ground level responsibilities such as cutting the grass or shovelling the snow - but for me, I love shovelling snow and I love tending to the grounds. Tending to the grounds is meditative and well.... grounding!

Now I'm happy to say that I've landed back on the ground and it's taken a good month since I've been here to recalibrate to the earth's frequency. Kinda like when you get off a cruise ship with your sea legs, it takes a few days or longer to adjust back to land. And you wouldn't notice the difference unless you've experienced the opposite.

Let me know if this speaks to you and if you’ve been feeling a sense of claustrophobia in your own home too. It may just be that your sensitive needs are pulling you closer to the ground.


Fraya Mortensen is a Canadian based Transformational Mindset Coach who helps empathic and highly sensitive people to build their self-awareness, self-compassion and set healthy boundaries without the guilt.

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