By Tracy Henderson, LMHCA
Ever experience a moment where you instantly feel emotionally flooded from an innocent conversation with your partner, child, or peer? One moment the conversation is full of life and healthy dialogue then the next moment a word slips out or a puzzling act occurs, and the situation turns sideways.
Within a few moments your emotional dial has turned from smooth jazz to punk-rock anarchy. All the while, the emotional flooding takes over and you continue to lean into the punk-rock anarchy through rapid speech patterns, your voice is amplified, and your hand and arm gestures become wildly exaggerated.
The once healthy conversation has now turned sideways and both you and your audience are left puzzled. WHAT was that? HOW did that happen?
Emotional flooding is common. What triggers the flooding is a natural response within our brain and translated throughout our body via the nervous system. While emotional responses are common, they are also specific to each of us as individuals. There are triggers that cross-over and many of us generally experience in our everyday lives, like the overwhelming excitement of picking the lane on the freeway that is moving while all the others are left sitting still during a traffic jam. On the other hand, there are unique emotional triggers that have been embedded within us from prior life experiences.
What is key to understanding how to navigate the flood of noise is knowing how far your dial can be turned up before everything sounds like punk-rock. At a critical point our emotional brain takes over, that is considered the amygdala, and the nervous system goes into motion responding in some form of fight, flight, or freeze behavior.
As the emotional dial increases and the noise gets louder our ability to hear and process decreases. The thinking brain becomes restricted, meaning that the prefrontal cortex is drowned out and the amygdala has become the voice of reason.
A critical first step in understanding how to manage your own personal flooding is by becoming aware. Typically, when your heart rate increases over 100 beats per minute you are flooding. Take moments in your everyday activities to notice when your dial starts to get turned up. Notice how you are feeling? Where are you at? Who are you talking to? What are you talking about?
By noticing what triggers your feelings and discovering what dials you up you will begin to have an awareness which can enable you to turn the dial down through pro-active strategies. A few examples may include, If you are unable to leave the situation, breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Whereas, if you can leave the situation then go for a walk or find something that distracts your attention away from the situation for at least 15 minutes.
Not every strategy will be effective for everyone. Along with noticing what triggers you it will be equally as important to identify what calms you.