By MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S.
Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) can feel overwhelming. Being an HSP in a big, boisterous city can feel utterly unbearable. That’s because HSPs have a hard time screening out stimuli. Specifically, the problem lies in artificial stimulation, according to Ted Zeff, Ph.D, a psychologist and author of three books on HSPs, including “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide,” “The Strong Sensitive Boy” and his newest book “The Power of Sensitivity.”
All sights, sounds and smells aren’t created equal. Compare a big city’s bright lights, big crowds, honking horns, pollution and bumper-to-bumper traffic with a smaller town’s hiking trails, chirping birds, ocean waves and scents of freshly cut grass.
It’s very hard to function when grating stimuli assault your senses, and you’re in a constant state of overwhelm. One of Zeff’s students told him that at times she felt like she was “walking around with no skin, like a sponge absorbing everything that comes her way.” Over time, this can affect your emotional and physical health, such as spiking your blood pressure, Zeff said.
Below are Zeff’s suggestions for leading a more satisfying life when you’re surrounded by a cacophony of sounds and other big-city stress:
1. Evaluate your reasons for staying in the city. If you really can’t tolerate where you’re living, consider “What am I doing here?” Zeff said. And consider places where you might feel more peace, he said.
At first it might seem like you don’t have a choice over leaving the city. For instance, you might be in a rent-controlled building – every renter’s dream. But you also might have horrible neighbors and live on an extremely noisy street.
Sometimes we’re so used to living in a bad situation, we can’t even conceive of something better, he said. If so, dig deeper, and ask yourself, “Why am I abusing myself this way?”
2. Use devices that help you tune out noise. Try earplugs and white noise machines, Zeff said. “HSPs in big cities are exposed to all sorts of people’s energy when they are outside, so it’s important to listen to an iPod when walking in crowds or when commuting in a bus or subway.” You can even purchase a construction worker’s headset to drown out the clamor. (Zeff wears one on flights.)
3. Create a sanctuary in your home. Create a space where you can withdraw from the hustle and bustle. For instance, buy heavy curtains to block out the light, and play calming music, Zeff said.
4. Retreat regularly. It’s essential to have retreats during the week to shut out the artificial stimulation and find inner peace, Zeff said. Try a yoga studio, take a nap, read a book or enjoy a bath with soothing scents like lavender, he said. “Go away for the weekend to somewhere calming.”
5. Unplug. “Disconnect for at least one hour a day from everything electronic, especially before bed,” Zeff said. This includes the TV, computer and phone.
6. Avoid peak times. “Plan ahead so you minimize the most intense parts of city life,” Zeff said. Go out when the city is less crowded or noisy. For instance, avoid seeing films on opening night, visit museums on weekdays or early mornings and eat at popular restaurants earlier or later in the day. Zeff, who lives in California, rarely travels during rush hour.
7. Bring calm to your workspace. Listen to calming music while you work, Zeff said. Bring nature inside by keeping plants on your desk and pictures of soothing surroundings like the ocean, he said. Ask your boss if you can work from home a few days a week. If your job is especially stressful, evaluate if that’s really healthy for you, and consider your options, he said.
8. Try meditations and visualization. Zeff suggested the below grounding meditations when you’re in a large crowd. Record these meditations, and listen to them until you can recite them from memory, he said.
Once you have completed a few minutes of slow, deep breathing, imagine a green cord that is attached to the base of your spine…clearly observe the green cord…the cord is slowly moving from your spine toward the floor… imagine two more green cords that are attached to the soles of your feet…now visualize all three green cords meeting at the Earth’s surface and forming one large green cord…
Observe the large green cord as gravity pulls the thick rope deeper toward the center of the Earth…the cable is now traveling through layers and layers of solid rock… deeper and deeper…you can clearly see the cord traveling as it plummets toward the center of the Earth…
Finally, the green cord arrives at the very center of the Earth…the rope anchors itself to the Earth’s center and you begin to slowly inhale calm, centered and stable energy from the Earth’s core. …visualize the energy slowly rising toward the Earth’s surface with each inhalation…
The energy easily ascends towards the ground level…observe the grounding energy arrive at the Earth’s surface… the powerful energy ascends through the floor and into the soles of your feet. …you feel the energy rising up your legs…you feel solid and centered like a rock…
Now feel the Earth’s energy enter the base of your spine… the serene, grounded energy feels so soothing…feel the Earth energy slowly travel up your spine through your lower back…mid back….upper back….neck….all the way to the top of your head…
You feel centered, calm and strong as this core energy circulates throughout your entire being… filling every cell of your body…breathe in the Earth’s energy for a few moments. ..you are calm, centered and happy …you are calm, centered and happy… you are calm centered and happy.
White Light Meditation
Once you have completed a few minutes of slow deep breathing…visualize a crystal-clear white light encircling your body …notice how the shimmering light encompasses every inch of your skin…observe clearly how strong the shield is… imagine negative energy bouncing off the impenetrable armor and ricocheting back to its source… you are safe and protected…you are safe and protected…you are safe and protected…
Living in a big city as an HSP can be especially overwhelming. Some HSPs might realize they’re better off living on the outskirts of a city, while others might find that the above modifications do the trick.