How do our senses work during an international relocation?
Tamar Amiri, an occupational therapist living in the Netherlands, is explaining to us how our senses work during an international relocation. She is telling us to be aware, not only of the emotional or mental challenges, but also of what our “instinctive” body is experiencing. We are reminded to listen to what the inner wisdom of our body is telling us.
How our senses work for us
The human body experiences the environment through the senses. Information is sent to our brains from receptor cells in the eyes, nose, ears, mouth, skin, muscles, joints and organs. This sensory information is then processed by the brain, so that light entering visual receptors in the eyes become images, and sounds received by auditory receptors in our ears turn into words. The sensory system is designed to protect us and to alert the brain of a new and possibly dangerous environmental threat: the sudden heat of a flame felt on the skin will cause you to quickly pull away that hand, and a foul odour coming from the leftovers in the fridge means the food is likely spoiled.
After a while, however, the brain becomes accustomed to sensory input, and begins to adapt to it. A startling sound in a quiet room quickly becomes background noise if it continues, yet does not cause harm. We are soon able to tune it out and return our attention to whatever it was we were doing. This process is called adaptation and habituation. Our brains are trained to detect sudden new sensory input, in case it is threatening. But if the sensory input persists without any harmful consequences, then the alarms can be turned off and we carry on with a “new normal”.
Relocating… a sensational experience
Relocations are challenging in more ways than one. You wake up one day and suddenly there is a different social scene to navigate, unknown cultural norms to trip over, and a new job to figure out. But it is also the physical environment that you need to adjust to when relocating. With time and repeated exposure, your body and brain adapt and habituate to new surroundings, and there will come a day when you will no longer notice that shrill ambulance siren or the strong scent of the marketplace…
Until then, try to enjoy the novel sensations as much as possible, before they fade into the “new normal”. Remember, it really does take a while to feel at home in a new place.
What are your sensory memories (positive or negative) from when you moved to your current location? Which senses suddenly came alive there? Which sensory experiences – a certain smell or taste – remind you of “home”?
First published on ExpatsNest.