How to Deal with Emotional Flooding in Conversations
How can we prevent or cope with emotional flooding in conversations
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by emotion that you couldn’t think clearly or communicate effectively?
If so, you might have experienced what psychologists call emotional flooding. Emotional flooding is a state of high arousal and stress that occurs when we perceive a threat or a challenge in a situation. It triggers our fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. This prepares us to either confront or escape the danger.
How to Deal with Emotional Flooding in Conversations. This automatic systemic response can also impair our ability to have reasonable and focused conversations with others. When we are emotionally flooded, our brain overflows with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This reduces our blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking, problem-solving, and self-control. As a result, we become more reactive, impulsive, defensive, and less empathetic. We might say or do things we later regret. We also might shut down and withdraw from the conversation altogether.
To illustrate this, imagine that you are watching water overflow from a cup. Would you be able to have a calm and coherent conversation while you are watching this happen? Probably not. You would be more focused on stopping the water from spilling or cleaning up the mess. This is what happens in our brain when we are emotionally flooded. We lose sight of the bigger picture and the goals of the conversation. We become more concerned with protecting ourselves or responding in attack mode. In short, our empathy is out the window or literally drowned by mental flooding.
How can we prevent or cope with emotional flooding in conversations? Here are some tips that might help:
- Recognize the signs of emotional flooding. Some common signs are feeling tense, anxious, angry, frustrated, hurt, or overwhelmed. You might also notice changes in your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, or voice tone. If you notice any of these signs, it means that you are becoming emotionally flooded and need to take a break from the conversation.
- Take a time-out. The best way to calm down from emotional flooding is to take a time-out from the conversation. This will allow you to regain your composure and perspective. You can say something like “I’m feeling too upset to continue this conversation right now. Can we take a break and resume later?” Make sure to set a specific time to resume the conversation, such as in 15 minutes or an hour. Don’t use the time-out as an excuse to avoid the conversation altogether.
- Use self-soothing techniques. During the time-out, use some techniques to calm yourself down and reduce your stress levels. Some examples are deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, taking a walk, reading, or doing something that you enjoy. These techniques will help you lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, and increase your blood flow to the prefrontal cortex.
- Reframe the situation. Another way to cope with emotional flooding is to reframe in a more positive or neutral way. Instead of seeing the other person as an enemy or a threat, try to see them as a partner or a friend. Instead of deciding the situation is a conflict or a crisis, try to see it as an opportunity or a challenge. Avoid focusing on the negative aspects or the differences and focus on the positive aspects or the fact that you are on the same team. Reframing can help you reduce negative emotions and increase your empathy, understanding, and desire to problem solve.
- Resume the conversation. When you feel calm and ready, resume the conversation with the other person. Start by acknowledging and apologizing for any hurtful or disrespectful words or actions that you might have said or done. Then, express your feelings and needs in a respectful and assertive way, using “I” statements and avoiding blame or criticism. For example, you can say “I feel hurt when you say that I don’t care about you. I need you to respect my opinions and feelings.” Finally, listen to the other person’s feelings and needs, and try to find a solution or a compromise that works for both of you.
How to Deal with Emotional Flooding in Conversations. Emotional flooding is a common and natural phenomenon that our brain constructs during stressful or challenging situations. It is a natural protective response. However, it can also interfere with our ability to have effective and constructive conversations with others. By following these tips, you can learn to manage your emotions and communicate better in any situation.