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  • Writer's pictureJamie Bass

How Our Environments Affect Our Reactions to Stimuli

(For an overview of why we react to different stimuli, see the last post, Why We React the Way We Do.)

As I mentioned in the last post, there are several key universal stimuli that affect how all humans act and feel. For the most part, our reactions to these stimuli focus on our survival and have been ingrained in us over years of evolution, which is why we all tend to have the same reaction (survival and reproduction are critical if we want to maintain the species). But our spaces can actually have a huge impact in dictating which of these universal stimuli we react to and in what ways. Below, I outline the different universal stimuli, how they can be triggered in our spaces, and how feng shui can help to temper our reactions.

Access to Sustenance

How This Is a Stimulus: We all need to eat to survive, and making sure we have access to food and water is one of our most basic and primary concerns.

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: Our environments can impact how much, when, and what we eat, specifically by paying attention to the visual and physical pathways to food (Is it easy to get to the kitchen or pantry? What’s the first thing you see when you look into the kitchen?); whether there are distractions (smells, noises, or sights) that interfere with easy access to food; and where we eat our meals/snacks and why. These concerns are especially pertinent for those who may have emotional issues around food and struggle with over- or under-eating.

Access to Nurturing

How This Is a Stimulus: Positive human contact is essential not only for our contentment but also for performance-related activities. Without contact that supports us and gives us emotional sustenance, we don’t thrive.

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: Our environments can provide us with and facilitate emotional support and comfort. We can look at the tactile stimulations (Do materials comfort, stimulate, or relax us? Do surfaces invite us to sit or lay down?); whether seating arrangements are configured in a way that encourage human interaction; if there are a variety of spaces for different types of interactions; and how different relationships are represented throughout the space. (Are there a lot of pictures of solitary individuals? Are photographs of family and friends displayed?)

Need for Egress

How This Is a Stimulus: Being able to escape is essential to our functioning and survival. At our most basic level, we are absolutely terrified of being trapped or confined, and any space that does this impacts our functioning at the highest levels. In fact, our need for egress is so essential that its removal is almost always used as the most severe form of punishment (incarceration).

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: In our spaces, we want to make sure that we can easily see the exit; that there are no obstacles blocking the exit or preventing us from being able to leave; and that we are able to hear if someone is coming, especially if we’re not able to see them right away.

Fear of Spiders, Rodents, and Snakes

How This Is a Stimulus: Yep, this is a very real thing. We all seem to have an innate fear or disgust of these creatures, even if you don’t consciously feel afraid of them. And it goes even further than just being fearful of spiders, rodents, and snakes: we are also programmed to be on guard for any action that resembles scurrying, slithering, and climbing.

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: Obviously, we want to make sure that there has never been an infestation of these creatures in our spaces; that there are no other possible scurrying creatures in our environment (roaches, lizards, ants); and whether any areas of our space prompt us to approach with caution (cellars, attics, basements, under the bed).

Fear of Heights

How This Is a Stimulus: We are programmed to understand that being suspended in the air without supports is dangerous. Even though you may not consciously be afraid of heights, we all naturally have a desire to be protected from falling.

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: In our spaces, we can notice if there are secure surfaces to hold on to if our legs are suspended while we’re sitting; if seating areas that are also used to lie down are wide enough so that we feel like there is room between us and the edge of the seat (so we don't worry about rolling off); and whether step risers are uniform in height so we don’t have to focus on them when going down the stairs.

Response to Throwing or Hitting

How This Is a Stimulus: No, we’re not talking about your younger brother throwing a baseball at your head. This relates more to any objects in a physical environment that rotate, swing, or pop out. When this happens, they produce the same response as if we are getting hit.

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: Any fast-moving object in close range, such as swinging doors, windows that might slam shut, or items that pop out when touched can trigger a reaction. The things to consider are whether any of these happen unexpectedly (that would prompt frustration, apprehension, or fear that we’ll be caught off guard) or if iterations of this will get annoying over time.

Response to Aggression

How This Is a Stimulus: We know that the existence of frustration can lead to aggression. In a physical environment, anything that blocks our path or makes it more challenging to get to where we want to go or access what we need can cause frustration. Typically aggression will come about only when the trigger that prompts the frustration has happened enough times so that the frustration accumulates in the person to the point where it surfaces as aggression.

What This Has to Do with Feng Shui: We want to make sure that certain actions, like electronics that pop out objects or windows that randomly slam shut, don’t happen too often (this can get very annoying over time). We also want to remove all encumbrances to free movement and unobstructed sight lines, as these restrictions can cause frustration.

These stimuli are, in many ways, universal expressions of the human condition. Feng shui principles can help us satisfy these basic needs and impulses so that we function at our highest and best potential.


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