Author Archives: drtedzeff

Help for Highly Sensitive People in Big Cities


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.

Centering Meditation

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. 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.

How to Reduce Catching Colds and Flus

Some people with a sensitive nervous system tend to get sick easily. Many sensitive people experience stress for not fitting in with the majority 80% non-sensitive people in society. Daily stress can really lower your immune system since it increases cortisol in your body, which weakens your immune system.

Since I was a child, I have always gotten many severe colds and flus yearly. As a matter of fact, I have usually had 3 or 4 colds a year that can sometimes last up to a month or longer to heal. That’s a lot of time feeling miserable, coughing, sneezing and missing work and play.

I’ve always been open to learning new methods to strengthen my immune system. I’ve tried taking Ayurvedic, Chinese, and Western herbal formulas. While some remedies have helped a little, nothing seemed to have significantly reduce the amount and severity of my colds.

However, I’ve finally found a combination of formulas that have amazingly reduced the amount of colds I have caught for the last few years. As a matter of fact, this past year I had only one cold last March that only lasted for a few days. This past November I was at a conference where most of the people got sick and I was exposed to many people coughing and sneezing yet I didn’t get sick!

One of my daily preventative methods to stay well is called oil pulling. I put one tablespoon of organic sesame oil in my mouth for at least 5 minutes as soon as I wake up. The sesame oil absorbs the toxins in the mouth and throat area. It’s important not to swallow the oil. When I spit the oil out, the yellow oil has turned white which seems to indicate the toxins have been absorbed into the oil. Then I wash my mouth out and brush my teeth.

Twice a day I put a few drops of an Ayurvedic formula in my nose. The product contains oils of eucalyptus, sesame, coconut, rose, sandalwood, basil, olive and lotus. The nose drops create a moisturizing environment that lowers the chances of bacteria forming. The formula that I use is called Super Nasya from the Ayurvedic Institute in Alburqurque , N.M. (505-291-9698), although I’m sure there are other equivalent formulas available at other Ayurvedic facilities. I put a few drops in each nostril in the morning and evening.

I have increased my daily dosage of Vitamin D, which my doctor believed increased my immune system. My lab results indicated that in the last year my level of Vitamin D doubled. It’s important to discuss with your doctor any possible side effects of Vitamin D before taking it since taking too much Vitamin D could be dangerous.

Whenever I feel like I’m coming down with a cold I take a product by Source Natural brand called herbal liquid resistance. This product contains many Chinese and Western herbs. While this one product seems to work for me, be sure that you take your favorite preventative cold formula as soon as you feel like you are coming down with a cold or flu.

This article is solely about my experiences reducing colds and flus. This article is not meant to offer medical advice to anyone. Please do not take any of the above-mentioned products without discussing and receiving approval from your medical doctor. Some of the herbs and supplements that I have taken may be dangerous for some people.

Ted Zeff, Ph.D.

Planning a Trip? Easy Traveling for the Highly Sensitive Person

port CopenhagenTraveling can be challenging for an HSP. Besides the inevitable overstimulation, there are risks and uncertainties inherent in leaving the safety of home, such as not knowing if you will be able to stay in a quiet and safe place.

The Secret is Careful Planning.

It’s important to be able to feel like you have some control in your new environment and that you won’t be overwhelmed by overstimulation.

I recently took two trips to Europe in a six-month period and am pleased to report that both trips went smoothly since I planned ahead. Many HSPs, including myself, tend to experience some anxiety as the departure date gets closer. If I’m feeling nervous before a trip, I take either some herbal anti-anxiety formula or Bach flower remedies. Some herbs that calm the nervous system are valerian, passionflower, hops and chamomile. Since everyone reacts differently to herbs, ask your doctor or health care practitioner which herbal formula is best for you and what dosage you should take. Since HSPs are usually more sensitive to the effects of herbal formulas, you should begin with a small dose and slowly increase the amount you take under your health care provider’s supervision.

I have found the Bach flower “rescue remedy” reduces anxiety, “white chestnut” can be effective for lessening unwanted thoughts prior to a trip and “aspen” helps lower the fear of the unknown. Warm organic sesame oil is the only oil that soaks into all seven-tissue layers and can deeply calm the nervous system. If you are anxious about an upcoming trip, apply warm sesame oil on your forehead and ears for at least ten minutes and watch your tension float away.

However, if herbal formulas, flower essences and oils are not strong enough to deal with travel anxiety, you may want to discuss with your doctor about taking a low dose of an allopathic anti-anxiety medication for a day or two before you leave. Allopathic medicine can have side effects and if taken over a long time period, the medication could become addictive. Therefore, it’s important to only take a small amount of an anti-anxiety allopathic medicine occasionally under your doctor’s supervision. Before I took a trip to India, where I heard about the excessive noise, rampant pollution and illnesses that some people have experienced, I was quite nervous before my flight. Therefore, I took the lowest dose of an allopathic medicine that calmed my nervous system.

Preparing for Arrival

In order to feel secure at your new destination, especially if it’s a foreign country, use the Internet. It can be an HSP’s best friend. Before I travel anywhere, I thoroughly research hotels in order to assess if the inn will work for my sensitive nervous system. I also carefully read the hotel reviews. If travelers have written that the facility is noisy, dirty, and has an unfriendly staff, I won’t consider staying there. However, don’t discard a hotel if just one reviewer has had a bad experience. I recently stayed at a quiet, HSP-friendly hotel in Minnesota that one reviewer had written was terrible.

When I reserve a room, I always ask for a quiet room, and definitely on the top floor, in the rear away from the traffic, and if possible at the end of the hallway. This summer I was assigned a room by mistake that was above a hotel bar. I asked to speak to the manager when the clerk told me there were no other rooms available, and after some negotiation, I secured a very quiet room. It’s important to speak up rather than spending an uncomfortable night in a noisy room.

You can reduce annoying ambient noises in your hotel room by turning on an air conditioner (in the summer) or a fan, and be sure to take a small sound machine that offers different sounds from nature, such as the flow of a river or “white noise.” You can buy long lasting batteries for your portable sound machine so you only have to change batteries once during a two-week trip. I use batteries since I have had some problems with electric converters in foreign countries. You can now download a white noise application to your cell phone.

Another blessing of the Internet is to be able to print out maps of your destination city so that you will feel more secure in a strange location. I have always felt overwhelmed trying to decipher street maps in a foreign country or even sometimes in the United States, but now I simply print out street maps so that I will have an understanding how to navigate through a strange city from my hotel to different sites. If needed I will give myself the comfort of taking a taxi rather than trying to figure out how to take public transportation when I first arrive in a new locale. Even if I don’t take a cab, knowing that that option is available gives me peace of mind.

Another advent of modern technology that has helped numerous people is using a GPS navigation system when driving in a strange city. However, make sure that your GPS is up-to-date. Recently we spent hours trying to drive out of Milano, Italy, on our way to Switzerland and ended up more than once in an underground garage because the GPS was an older version.

Upon landing in a foreign country, it may be better to spend your first few nights in a smaller town that is less overwhelming, or at least treat yourself to a luxury hotel for the first few nights if you are arriving in a large city. Your nervous system will likely be very overstimulated when you arrive, so if you have trouble falling asleep the first night, again, take an herbal relaxation formula or allopathic medicine.

Several years ago when I arrived in India my nervous system was wired from overstimulation due to the very long journey so I took a small dosage of a mild allopathic sleeping pill at bedtime. The next thing I knew light from the sun was rising over the Arabian Sea and pouring into my room. Since I had also taken a homeopathic remedy on the plane to minimize jet lag, I awoke the first morning full of energy and joy as I explored the fascinating new world that I had just entered. As you become familiar with your new destination, you will feel more secure and after a few days you will likely be able to sleep better without sleeping aids.

Air Travel Tips

It can be challenging for HSPs to travel by plane due to the over-stimulation and proximity to so many people. It’s vital to assert yourself rather than suffering during a long flight. For example, ask the steward or stewardess to change your seat as soon as you notice that you’re sitting next to someone with a strong perfume (if the odor is making you sick) or if you are sitting near a screaming infant. You can tell the flight attendant that you have a chemical or noise sensitivity and need to change seats. As soon as someone is kicking the back of your chair, politely ask the person to stop.

Take a warm jacket since sometimes planes, buses and trains are cold. Last summer I took a five-hour bus trip and was extremely cold since I was wearing just a thin shirt (my suitcase was in the bin below the bus) with the cold air blasting from the air-conditioner. I asked the bus driver to please turn down the air-conditioner. It helped a little, but I was still cold.

When you are flying through more than three time zones, you will likely experience jet lag. Homeopathic remedies such as Jet Zone or No Jet Lag for jetlag prevention have really worked for me. You may also want to try taking melatonin for your first few nights in a new time zone. Melatonin is the actual hormone that our brain releases when we go to sleep. During a long flight it’s best to try to stay awake when it is daytime at the arrival city and sleep or meditate between early evening to late morning at your destination city. Always take a sleep mask, ear plugs and if needed an earmuff-style headset that construction workers use to tune out light and noise on your flight. You may want to buy a noise-reducing headset that can eliminate the sound of the airplane engine. I usually listen to calming Mozart music on my IPOD or find a station with relaxing music that the airline provides. You may want to take flower essences or herbal remedies during the flight and be sure to drink plenty of water. Plan plenty of time to just relax during your first few days in your new location.

When You Don’t Know the Language

 If you are an English-speaker in a non-English speaking country, I recommend learning some basic survival language skills. In countries like Denmark and Holland virtually everyone speaks English, but local people appreciate hearing visitors say “please” and “thank you” in their native language. I was recently in Italy and found that most people spoke only Italian (parla solo Italiano). I speak some Spanish, French and Hebrew, but those languages didn’t help me much in Italy By learning and speaking some basic phrases in Italian, I was able to navigate fairly easily through the country, which made me feel more secure. There are also many translator applications you can download to your phone that I have found very helpful.

HSP Travel Essentials:

To calm your nervous system: Herbal relaxation formula, flower essences, calming herbal teas, or allopathic medicine, for dealing with anxiety, overstimulation, and insomnia.

To reduce overstimulation: Eye shade, sound (white noise) machine and batteries, ear plugs IPOD/Smart phone with soothing music, earmuff-style headset or noise-reducing headset, nose mask (in case of pollution)

For health and safety: small flashlight; lozenges; copies of your drivers license, passport, etc.; handiwipes/hand sanitizer; small plastic bags; antibiotic cream and band aids; warm clothes and dress in “layers.” If you take medications, put some pills in a different container from your luggage in case your luggage is lost.

 Let Your Host Know of Your Needs

Not only is it important for you to take good care of yourself when you travel, but don’t feel guilty about needing special preparations. If you are going to be a houseguest, let the host know before you leave home of your needs. It’s better to make other sleeping arrangements than staying in an untenable situation. When you plan ahead both you and your non-HSP relatives and friends will be glad you did. By following these simple procedures, you will have a rewarding and peaceful trip! Bon Voyage.

Ted Zeff, Ph.D.

Ted Zeff, Ph.D., is the author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, The Highly Sensitive Person’s Companion, The Strong Sensitive Boy, Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy and The Power of Sensitivity.

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