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Emotional Flooding: Recognizing the Symptoms and Weathering the Storm

Emotional Flooding: Recognizing the Symptoms and Weathering the Storm

Jul 13, 2023

Have you ever felt like you’re up to your neck in feelings and emotions and can’t do anything about it except lay in bed and pull the covers over your head? If so, then you’re familiar with emotional flooding.

Understanding this phenomenon and its symptoms are essential to coping with these overwhelming feelings and preventing this experience from disrupting your daily life.

What is emotional flooding?

“Emotional flooding is a sudden, intense surge of emotions that can overwhelm you, making it difficult to think or take action,” said Darren McMahon, LSCW, LCADC, Outpatient Wellness Manager at Inspira Health Center Woodbury and Glassboro. “It can happen in response to stress, traumatic events or strong stimuli, and can result in feelings of panic, disorientation and loss of control.” People with a history of trauma,anxiety or depression are particularly vulnerable to emotional flooding.

Emotional flooding is a natural response to intense stress or trauma—it’s not a sign of weakness. However, if it happens often enough and disrupts your daily life, it may signify an underlying mental health concern like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are the symptoms of emotional flooding?

Emotional flooding symptoms are both physical and mental. Physical symptoms may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty breathing

Mental symptoms of emotional flooding may involve feelings of:

  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Detachment

Other symptoms include assuming the negative about another person’s actions or an event, a strong

desire to escape or withdraw from the situation causing your emotional response and a disorganized, irrational mindset.

Emotional flooding in relationships and your environment

Emotional flooding can happen in most types of relationships. In romantic relationships, partners with a tendency to emotionally flood may respond from a place of heightened feelings, leading to a breakdown in communication and affecting their patterns of conflict resolution.

Emotional flooding can also occur in caregiving relationships. For example, parents may become emotionally triggered by their children, incorrectly label their child’s behavior as disruptive, become angry and resort to harsh punishment.

“Your environment can trigger an instance of emotional flooding as well,” said McMahon. “Strong stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights or intense smells, can cause a heightened emotional response, resulting in illogical or uncharacteristic behavior.”

Coping with overwhelming emotions

There are several ways to manage emotional flooding. Practicing self-care and engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as exercise, yoga or spending time outdoors, can help your nervous system shift back into a calm state. Other strategies for soothing your nervous system involve mindfulness meditation, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

“In some cases, professional support can help you effectively manage episodes of emotional flooding,” said McMahon. “Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy, can help you identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to emotional flooding.” Medication can also help manage the physical symptoms of emotional flooding.

If your emotions become too overwhelming to manage, it’s essential to seek support. Inspira’s behavioral wellness centers offer comprehensive therapeutic services to treat a wide range of mental health issues. Learn more or make an appointment with a behavioral health care provider.

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Topics: Behavioral Health