What is Emotional Flooding? - Healthier Steps (2023)

Do you often find yourself feeling overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, or frustration? These emotions can make you feel like you have no control over what’s happening. Emotional flooding is a term used to describe this intense experience when one’s emotions overwhelm their ability to think or act clearly.

This article takes a closer look at why such dysregulations happen, how they can affect your life, and how to prevent them.

See also: Best Vitamins For Depression and 7 Effective Steps to Help You Overcome Emotional Baggage

What is Emotional Flooding?

What is Emotional Flooding? - Healthier Steps (1)

Emotional flooding is a term used to describe the experience of feeling overwhelmed by emotions. It can feel like being submerged in a tsunami of emotion, with no way to escape or cope. The intensity of the emotions can make it difficult to think clearly or function normally.

Flooding can be triggered by a variety of things, including memories, events, and even thoughts. When someone is experiencing emotional flooding, they may feel out of control, panicked, and helpless.

Common Causes of Emotional Flooding

There are a number of factors that can contribute to emotional flooding. Some common triggers include:

1. Prolonged stress or anxiety

When we experience stress or anxiety, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. This causes a release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare us to either face the threat or flee from it.

However, when we’re constantly stressed or anxious, our bodies can remain in this heightened state for long periods, leading to an emotional breakdown.

If you’re struggling with chronic stress or anxiety, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. With treatment, you can learn how to manage your emotions and reduce your risk of emotional flooding.

2. Suppression of emotions

Many people suppress their emotions in an attempt to avoid feeling pain. However, this can backfire and cause emotional flooding. This happens when the suppressed emotions become too much to handle and come rushing back all at once.

(Video) Emotional Flooding: How Anxiety Impacts Relationships: Relationship Skills #8

This can be overwhelming and lead to negative consequences, such as making impulsive decisions or lashing out at others. If you find yourself suppressing your emotions, it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with them instead.

3. Certain medications or medical conditions

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with emotions, it could be due to a medical condition or the medications you are taking.

Conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder can all cause emotional flooding.

Medications used to treat these conditions such as antidepressants can also have this effect. If you feel like you are constantly on the verge of tears or find that your emotions are out of control, speak to your doctor about whether your condition or medication could be the cause.

4. A traumatic event

A traumatic event can cause emotional flooding if it is too much for the person to handle. This can be an event that happened in the past, such as abuse or a natural disaster. It can also be an event that is happening currently, such as being in a car accident or being diagnosed with a serious illness.

5. Difficult situations

A difficult situation can also lead to emotional flooding. This might be a situation that is out of the person’s control, such as financial problems or the death of a loved one. It could also be a situation that the person feels they are not equipped to handle, such as starting a new job or becoming a parent.

6. A change in the environment

Being in a new environment can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. When you’re in a new place, your brain is working overtime to take everything in. This can lead to an emotional reaction that feels out of proportion.

Emotional Flooding Symptoms

There are several signs that someone may be experiencing emotional flooding:

  • Feeling out of control or helpless
  • Feeling like you’re going to drown or lose your mind
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself or the world around you
  • Feeling like you’re in a dream
  • Physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, racing heart, and dizziness
  • You can’t focus on anything or think clearly
  • Your heart races or feels like it’s pounding out of your chest
  • You feel an intense need to escape or flee the situation
  • Stomach feels tight
  • Controlled facial expression, chin muscle tightens, and the jaw can feel set
  • The tongue rises to the top of the mouth

Examples of Emotional Flooding

Some examples of emotional flooding include:

You’re at the grocery store when someone bumps into you from behind. You spin around and see that it was just an accident, but your heart is pounding and you feel like you’re going to scream or cry.

You’re driving home from work when you get cut off by another driver. Your hands tighten on the steering wheel and your heart races as you imagine what could have happened if they had hit your car. Your mind starts to replay the event over and over again and you can’t shake the feeling off

A person with anxiety may start to feel overwhelmed by worry and fear when they are faced with a situation that makes them anxious. For example, someone with social anxiety may start to feel very anxious and panicky when they have to give a speech in front of an audience.

(Video) Manage Emotional Flooding (5 Tips That Work)

A person with depression may feel overwhelmed by sadness and despair when faced with a situation that reminds them of their loss or failure. For example, someone who is grieving the death of a loved one may become overwhelmed with sadness when they hear a song that was special to that person.

You are in a heated argument with your partner and start to feel anger welling up inside of you. Your heart rate increases and your palms start to sweat. You may feel like you are about to lose control and lash out.

Who is at Risk of Emotional Flooding

Individuals who are at risk of emotional flooding are typically those who have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can be due to a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, early life experiences, and current stressors.

They include:

  • People with a family history of mental illness
  • Those that have experienced stressful life events (such as a divorce, job loss, or death in the family)
  • Anyone of substances (such as alcohol or drugs)
  • People who suffer from anxiety or depression
  • Those with a history of trauma or abuse
  • People who have been through a major life event such as a natural disaster, war, or rape
  • People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Having a low tolerance for stress
  • Being a perfectionist or having high standards for oneself

If you have any of these risk factors, you may be more likely to experience emotional flooding in certain situations. For example, you may be more likely to flood if you’re in a situation that reminds you of your trauma.

How to Deal With Emotional Flooding

When you are feeling emotionally flooded, it can be difficult to know what to do. You may feel like you are out of control and that your emotions are running the show. However, there are some things that you can do to help calm down.

1. Understand that your emotions are normal

It is important to understand that your emotions are normal and that you are not alone in feeling them. It is also important to remember that your emotions will eventually subside. They may come back at different times and in different ways, but they will eventually go away.

2. Stay in the present

When experiencing an emotional overwhelm, don’t allow your thoughts to wander. Instead, focus on the present moment as much as possible.

For example, try focusing on your breath and the sensations in your body. This will help you ground yourself and avoid getting lost in your thoughts and emotions.

3. Breathe deeply

When you’re feeling flooded, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Taking deep, slow breaths can help calm your body down.

4. Let out your emotions

It’s okay to cry or to express your emotions in whatever way feels right for you. There is no need to bottle up your feelings or to try to hold them back. Letting them out helps you to feel better and helps release some of the tension within.

5. Use positive self-talk

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions, it can be helpful to use positive self-talk to calm yourself down. A positive self-talk is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that involves talking to yourself in a positive, supportive way.

(Video) Emotional Flooding

Some examples of positive self-talk for emotional flooding include:

• “I am handling this situation.”

• “I am Strong.”

• “I can get through this.”

• “I am not my emotions.”

Using positive self-talk can help you reframe your thinking and see the situation in a more positive light. It can also help to increase your feelings of self-efficacy and control. If you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts, give positive self-talk a try.

6. Talk to a friend

If you are going through an episode of emotional flooding, try talking to someone who understands what you are going through.

Talking about your feelings can be very helpful and can give you a chance to vent some of the pent-up emotions that you are feeling. If you don’t have anyone who understands your situation, consider talking to a therapist or counselor who can help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way.

How to Prevent Emotional Flooding

When we experience an emotionally overwhelming situation, our natural reaction is to try to shut down or numb our emotions. However, this can lead to even more problems down the road. Learning how to prevent emotional flooding from happening in the first place can help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way and prevent further difficulties.

There are a few things that we can do to prevent emotional flooding.

Be aware of your triggers

When it comes to emotional flooding, one of the most important things you can do is to identify your triggers. Once you know what sets off your emotions, you can start to develop a plan for how to deal with them.

There are a few different ways to identify your triggers. One is to keep track of your moods in a journal or on your smartphone. Every time you feel yourself getting emotional, note what was happening just before that. Were you thinking about something specific? Was there a particular person or situation that was causing you stress?

(Video) 5 Ways to Manage Emotional Flooding | Edmonton Psychologist

Another way to identify your triggers is to pay attention to your body. Do you notice that you tend to get tense when you’re around certain people or in certain situations? Do you start to feel your heart rate increase or your breathing get shallow? These physical reactions can be clues that you’re about to experience an emotional flood.

Once you’ve identified your triggers, it’s important to have a plan for how to deal with them. This might involve deep breathing exercises, walking away from the triggering situation, or talking to someone who can help you calm down. The key is to find a strategy that works for you and practice using it until it becomes second nature.

Practice healthy coping skills

When faced with difficult emotions, it’s essential to have healthy coping skills to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed. One healthy coping skill is to take a step back and assess the situation. This can help you put your emotions into perspective and determine the best course of action.

Practice self-care

Practicing self-care is an integral part of building resilience against emotional flooding. This involves feeding your mind the right information and taking care of yourself physically, including exercising and eating foods that promote mental well-being.

All these can equip you to handle a difficult situation in the future.

Build a support system

Finally, building a support system of people you can rely on is important. These people can provide a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when needed.

Having supportive people in our lives can make all the difference when dealing with difficult emotions.

Seek professional help if needed

If you’re still poor at coping with your emotions even after trying these tips, consider seeking professional help. Whether it’s a therapist or counselor, they’ll be able to offer you the needed help.

Related Articles:

  1. Different Types of Stress
  2. Stress Relieving Foods
  3. Signs of Emotional Trauma
  4. Why is Stress Management So Important?

Final Thoughts

Emotional flooding or emotional overwhelm, refers to a pattern of intense and sustained (often furious) emotions that you can no longer effectively cope with.

This can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair, and powerlessness. It can also cause physical symptoms like chest tightness, shortness of breath, headaches, and fatigue.

Following the tips above can help you tackle a current situation as well as prevent future episodes.

However, if none of this is working, it’s important to seek professional help to help you learn more about how to manage your emotions effectively.

(Video) How to Release Emotions Trapped in Your Body 10/30 How to Process Emotions Like Trauma and Anxiety

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What is emotional flooding? ›

Unlike flooding, a behavioral therapy technique, emotional flooding is an overwhelming emotional response. It makes you feel like you're up to your neck with emotions and feelings. Emotional flooding varies depending on the context. Generally, it's whenever you're emotionally overwhelmed by an experience.

What is an example of emotional flooding? ›

For example if, if a loved one dies and you have powerful grief, your pulse may not go up. You may not have a fight or flight response. But if you have panic about showing emotion in public and feel you must hide in order to feel safe with grief, then you might flood: grief + fear = flooding.

How do you respond to emotional flooding? ›

Take an extended time-out. Sometimes you can self-soothe or take a pause on the spot. At other times, you may need to take a break from the interaction. Make a plan with your partner that if either of you gets too activated in an argument, you will take a time-out.

What are healthy emotional responses? ›

Adaptive (Healthy) Emotional Responses are beneficial emotional responses to life. For example, sadness about a loss, anger in response to a violation, and fear of threat all lead to needed change and powerful action.

What is emotional flooding Gottman? ›

According to the Gottman Institute, flooding is “a sensation of feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed during conflict, making it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.”

What does it mean when someone is flooding? ›

What is flooding? We may like to throw the word “triggered” around on Twitter, but flooding is what happens when we're deeply, emotionally triggered. It's when we get so overwhelmed with emotion, that the emotions take over, so we completely lose access to the logical part of our brains.

What are the five example of emotional? ›

They include sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

What are the 3 example of emotional expression? ›

Emotional expressions include facial movements like smiling or scowling, simple behaviors like crying, laughing, or saying "thank you," and more complex behaviors like writing a letter or giving a gift.

What are the 3 best ways to respond to difficult emotions? ›

Dealing With Difficult Emotions
  • Step 1: Identify the Emotion. Learning to notice and identify your feelings takes practice. ...
  • Step 2: Take Action. Once you've processed what you're feeling, you can decide if you need to express your emotion. ...
  • Step 3: Get Help With Difficult Emotions.

What is emotional flooding in therapy? ›

Emotional flooding is a form of psychotherapy that involves attacking the unconscious and/or subconscious mind to release repressed feelings and fears. Many of the techniques used in modern emotional flooding practice have roots in history, some tracing as far back as early tribal societies.

What is flooding in mental health? ›

What is flooding in psychology? Flooding therapy is an intensive type of exposure therapy in which you must face your fear at a maximum level of intensity for an extended amount of time. There's no avoiding the situation and no attempt on the therapist's part to reduce your anxiety or fear.

What are 6 ways to be emotionally healthy? ›

Build resilience
  • Develop healthy physical habits. ...
  • Take time for yourself each day. ...
  • Look at problems from different angles. ...
  • Practice gratitude. ...
  • Explore your beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life. ...
  • Tap into social connections and community.

What are the 3 steps to having good emotional health? ›

Focus on the good things in your life. Forgive yourself for making mistakes and forgive others. Spend time with healthy, positive people.

What are the 5 tips for emotional health? ›

5 steps to mental wellbeing
  1. Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. ...
  2. Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. ...
  3. Learn new skills. ...
  4. Give to others. ...
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

How long can emotional flooding last? ›

According to relationship researcher John Gottman, the average person needs 20 minutes for their body to reset after they become flooded. You may think you're calm a few minutes after a blow-up, but spoiler altert (and physiologically speaking), you're not.

What are the 3 types of emotional responses? ›

Emotional experiences have three components: a subjective experience, a physiological response and a behavioral or expressive response.

What are the 4 basic emotional needs? ›

There are four basic needs: The need for Attachment; the need for Control/Orientation; the need for Pleasure/Avoidance of Pain; and the need for Self-Enhancement.

What is emotional flooding after trauma? ›

These intrusive thoughts and memories can easily trigger strong emotional and behavioral reactions, as if the trauma was recurring in the present. The intrusive thoughts and memories can come rapidly, referred to as flooding, and can be disruptive at the time of their occurrence.

Is flooding positive or negative? ›

Floods are a force of nature, and their consequences, both positive and negative, are strongly felt by affected ecosystems. Floods can be destructive to humans and the natural environment, but they also help to drive biodiversity and are essential to the functioning of many ecosystems.

What is the three step emotional change trick? ›

In essence, the three-step, push-button, emotional change technique is an emotional education technique; the primary goal is to teach clients that, rather than being at the mercy of their feelings, they may learn some strategies and techniques that provide them with increased personal control over their feelings.

What are the five stages of emotional development? ›

According to the National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, strong emotional development leads to five key skills: self-awareness, social-awareness, emotional regulation, responsible decision making and relationship building.

What are some examples of emotional health activities? ›

Here are some activities that can help to improve your overall psychological well-being.
  • Get plenty of sleep. ...
  • Stop to enjoy small aspects of the day. ...
  • Use a stress ball or some other stress reliever. ...
  • Perform a random act of kindness. ...
  • Exercise. ...
  • Deep breathing exercises. ...
  • Yoga. ...
  • Pet a dog.

What are the 8 basic emotional skills? ›

Robert Plutchik proposed eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust and joy, and arranged them in a color wheel.

What are the 6 emotions that cause the most expressions? ›

Psychological research has classfied six facial expressions which correspond to distinct universal emotions: disgust, sadness, happiness,fear,anger, surprise[Black,Yacoob,95].

What are the 7 major emotions? ›

Facial expressions that give clues to a person's mood, including happiness, surprise, contempt, sadness, fear, disgust, and anger.

How can I express my emotions better? ›

10 ways to express your feelings better
  1. Make practicing mindfulness through meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises a habit.
  2. Work on being more vulnerable with the people who care about you.
  3. Don't worry about saying things perfectly the first time — practice makes perfect.
May 16, 2022

What are the 4 steps to manage strong emotions? ›

  1. Step 1: Pause. This step is important because instead of acting on feelings right away, you stop yourself and think things through. ...
  2. Step 2: Acknowledge what you're feeling. For example, are you mad at someone, or are you sad because your feelings were hurt by what they did? ...
  3. Step 3: Think. ...
  4. Step 4: Help.

What are 3 emotional survival tips? ›

Emotional Survival Tips to Refocus in Tough Times
  • Do you hear yourself saying things like this?
  • Emotions don't make you weak, they make you human.
  • Be firm with guilt and shame emotions.
  • Find balance in your thoughts.
  • Bring yourself back to the present.
Mar 31, 2020

What is the hardest emotion to deal with? ›

Many people say that one of the most difficult emotions to handle is anger. Anger can weaken your ability to solve problems effectively, make good decisions, handle changes, and get along with others. Concerns about anger control are very common.

What are the two types of flooding psychology? ›

Flooding can take one of two forms:
  • in vivo (actual exposure), or.
  • in vitro (imaginary exposure)
Mar 22, 2021

Why highly sensitive people get mentally and emotionally flooded? ›

Essentially, our nervous systems have a lower “threshold,” meaning we're more responsive to all forms of stimulation, from sights to sounds to emotional cues. There's also good evidence of overlap between the parts of the brain that influence our high sensitivity and our empathic responses.

What are the 5 main causes of flooding? ›

It's mostly caused by heavy rainfall, but can also be caused by king tides, storm surge, snowmelt and dam releases.

What are the four common types of flooding? ›

The Five Most Common Types of Flooding
  • The Five Most Common Flood Types. Whether you live in different parts of America, or across the world all areas are susceptible to flooding. ...
  • River Flood: A river flood occurs when water levels rise over the top of a riverbank. ...
  • Coastal Flood. ...
  • Storm Surge. ...
  • Inland Flood. ...
  • Flash Flood.
Oct 17, 2022

What are the 12 steps to positive mental health? ›

They include:
  • keeping physically active.
  • eating well.
  • drinking in moderation.
  • valuing yourself and others.
  • talking about your feelings.
  • keeping in touch with friends and loved ones.
  • caring for others.
  • getting involved and making a contribution.
Nov 10, 2008

What is flooding in ADHD? ›

People who have ADHD frequently experience emotions so deeply that they become overwhelmed or “flooded.” They may feel joy, anger, pain, or confusion in a given situation—and the intensity may precede impulsive behaviors they regret later.

What are 5 signs of emotional stress? ›

If you are stressed, you might feel:
  • Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up.
  • Over-burdened or overwhelmed.
  • Anxious, nervous or afraid.
  • Like your thoughts are racing and you can't switch off.
  • Unable to enjoy yourself.
  • Depressed.
  • Uninterested in life.
  • Like you've lost your sense of humour.

How does the body heal from emotional trauma? ›

Ways to Heal from Emotional Trauma
  1. Movement and Exercise. As trauma disrupts your body's natural equilibrium, exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system. ...
  2. Connect with Others. ...
  3. Ask for Support. ...
  4. Volunteer.

What does flooded mean mental health? ›

n. a technique in behavior therapy in which the individual is exposed directly to a maximum-intensity anxiety-producing situation or stimulus, either described or real, without any attempt made to lessen or avoid anxiety or fear during the exposure.

What is it called when you feel emotions too deeply? ›

A “deep feeler” is someone with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). Another term for someone with this ability is highly sensitive person (HSP). SPS is a nervous system difference that causes increases in: processing depth. emotional and empathetic reactivity.

Why are ADHD people so emotional? ›

“Challenges with processing emotions start in the brain itself. Sometimes the working memory impairments of ADHD allow a momentary emotion to become too strong, flooding the brain with one intense emotion.” Thomas Brown, Ph. D., explains why (and how) ADHD sparks such intense anger, frustration, and hurt.

What is the best treatment for emotional dysregulation? ›

Treatment for emotional dysregulation may include one or more of the following: Counseling. Typically this will include cognitive-behavioral therapy that combines strategies like mindfulness, acceptance, and emotional regulation. Antidepressant medications.


1. Feelings: Handle them before they handle you | Mandy Saligari | TEDxGuildford
(TEDx Talks)
2. Emotional Flooding
(Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby)
3. Emotions and the Brain
4. Trauma, Triggers and Emotional Dysregulation: 10 Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System w/ Anna Runkle
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
5. Emotional Flooding
6. 3 Steps of Anxiety Overload – and How You Can Take Back Control | Lisa Damour | TED
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