First things first, what is emotional flooding?

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Emotional flooding is a psychological and physiological response in the body that happens when we become overwhelmed, or flooded, with emotion. Physically, emotional flooding causes a racing heartbeat accompanied by both the brain and body releasing stress hormones at the same time. When this happens, logic and communication centers go offline and we go into fight, flight, or freeze response. 

In couples’ communication, if one or both partners is experiencing emotional flooding, communication doesn’t stand a chance. There is literally not enough blood in the cerebral cortex to problem-solve, think calmly, or to listen to somebody else. Instead, our brains and bodies shut down, unable to take in new information. In this state and in an attempt to push our partner away, we are also likely to say things that we don’t actually mean but are very detrimental to the health of our relationship. For this reason, it is crucial to learn to identify emotional flooding. 

How do I identify emotional flooding?

Increased heart rate is the main indicator of emotional flooding. If your heart rate goes above 100 bpm, you’re in it, you’ve been flooded. Consider investing in a pulse oximeter if conflict and emotional flooding happens often in your relationship. Another option is to pay close attention to your heart rate as well as to clamminess and sweat during intense conversations. 

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Being able to identify emotional flooding will stop some of the worst and least productive fights in a relationship. Instead of shutting down and stonewalling your partner, (which gives them the message that you don’t care about them), when you know you are flooded you can communicate to them that you are actually unable to talk any further and need a time out. This brings us to our next point.

What can I do when I know this is happening?

You can learn to self-soothe. Self-soothing is one of the most important life skills we can master. It will help us not only in our romantic relationships, but also in our friendships, with our families, and in our work relationships. Self-soothing is the ability to calm ourselves when we become emotionally triggered, overwhelmed, or upset.

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Once you have learned to identify when you are emotionally flooded, communicate to your partner that you need to take a timeout from the conversation. Make a plan to come back together and continue the conversation after around thirty minutes, when you are both feeling calmer. Think of the break as an opportunity to calm and soothe yourself. Do not use the time out to think about all of the reasons you are upset and to build your case against your partner, both of which will only add to your emotion. 

Instead, consider any of the following:

  1. Take time to breathe – steady, smoothe, and deep. Breathe into your belly for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. Repeat twenty or so times until you feel your body relax. 

  2. Try visualization and meditation. While breathing, visualize your favorite safe, peaceful location and place yourself there. Allow feelings of peaceful calm to permeate throughout your entire body. Use a meditation app or Youtube video as a guide.

  3. Take inventory of your body. Where do you feel tight or tense? Is it in your neck and shoulders, your jaw, your hips? Take a few minutes to relax and release all of these areas. Or, go through each and every muscle group in your body tightening then releasing. Tightening, then releasing. 

  4. Take a brisk twenty-minute walk, go for a run, or practice yoga. The movement will release tension in your body and clear your mind.

  5. Distract yourself with a book or write in a journal to clear your mind. Remember, the intention is to soothe yourself, not to work yourself up even more. 

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One of our goals at the Relationship Therapy Center is to arm couples with the tools to resolve conflict healthfully and communicate with clarity. The idea behind this approach to emotional flooding is to give one or both partners the opportunity to self-soothe and return to a calm state of mind and body. And our therapists are here to help! Contact us to learn more and to dive deeper into happy, fulfilling relationships. 

Other Services offered at The Relationship Therapy Center in California:

In addition to couples therapy, Our Sacramento area counseling clinics located in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA are pleased to offer a variety of mental health services. In your sessions we will discuss the importance of self-care and emotional support to help you cope with emotional flooding and to discover healthy ways of dealing with stress.   

Couples therapy can be beneficial, with the right therapist. Our compassionate therapists are trained to walk you through the process and help you find healing and peace. Please contact our therapy office to learn more about the many ways we can help you and your loved ones heal, grow, and love healthy.