Do you have a reliable breath practice for serious overwhelm? For an HSP, an industrial strength calming resource is life-changing.

I recently remarked to my partner, “I hardly ever get overwhelmed anymore!” Ha. My hubris was promptly rewarded. Our refrigerator died, and chaos ensued.

We both need to eat well. We also need to eat in a timely manner, or bad behavior ensues. So we treated this food chain disruption seriously. In three days, we had a new fridge in the house.

In the meantime, though, I rummaged repeatedly through three different coolers. I ran back and back and forth to our neighbor’s house to get items out of her fridge. I made multiple calls to the big box store to order the new appliance, and fielded the delivery. In short, I spent three days just this side of overwhelm.

Overwhelm is like a toilet. You’ve got to prevent it from rising past a certain point. Otherwise, things get really messy. As a highly sensitive person, I know that sooner or later, I will end up overwhelmed or, as we call it in the sensitivity world, overaroused. Knowing this, it has changed my life to have a breath practice that lowers the waters on the spot, taking me from frazzled to calm.

The 4-4-6-2 breath practice

The practice I use for immediate relief from overwhelm is called 4-4-6-2. It’s invisible and inaudible, so you can do it any time, anywhere. I’ve done 4-4-6-2 while driving, during phone calls, and (most recently) while waiting for refrigerators to arrive. I’ve demonstrated for you in the video below.

I’ve also demonstrated a more advanced version of the practice in which you combine a similar breath pattern with alternate nostril breathing. This version is not as instantly accessible as the basic 4-4-6-2. It takes some practice to learn, and because it is visible to others, you can’t use it in as wide a range of situations. However, when you need an industrial strength calming practice, there is nothing like it.

Reliable–even under pressure

Case in point: yesterday, I had my first in-person physical exam with a new primary care doctor. I went in fully aware I was worried about some test results I’d just seen. I also knew that being in an entirely new medical situation would be overarousing in itself.

Even so, I was shocked when the nurse read out my blood pressure. It was 148 over 84—stroke territory.

My blood pressure is usually on the low side. I said so. The nurse said she would try again at the end of the appointment. To my horror, the second reading was nearly as bad as the first. My HSP environmental susceptibility was on full display.

Thank goodness I knew what to do. I asked for five minutes alone, and I practiced alternate nostril breathing in a 4-4-12 pattern for five minutes. The nurse came back and took my blood pressure again. It had dropped to 102 over 80.

What a relief. This practice works—even under that kind of pressure.

I learned these practices from Dr. Richard Brown at Breath-Body-Mind. Dr. Brown explained that versions of 4-4-6-2 are found throughout Asia, India and China. The practice can cut through intense anger, addictive urges, repetitive thoughts, and even suicidal thoughts, and you can use 4-4-6-2 for any of these reasons.

For those of us who are highly sensitive, though, 4-4-6-2 and the even more powerful alternate nostril version stand out for their power to counteract overwhelm and overarousal. The alternate nostril breathing takes time and practice to master, but it’s worth every second. I highly recommend you add both to your self-care repertoire…and this video will help you do that.

Photo of field and sky: Dave Beasley at Unsplash