Understanding the Phenomenon of Emotional Flooding

In their research, Drs John and July Gottman notice that flooding occurs when one partner becomes overwhelmed by intense emotions and feelings, leading to an inability to regulate their emotional state and react calmly and rationally. They called this state “emotional flooding”, also known as flooding. Many couples face this problem during an escalated argument in their relationship. One or both get too flooded to engage in effective communication.

This state of being overwhelmed is often referred to as flooded.

When you are flooded, you are unable to think logically or clearly. You might engage in impulsive and irrational behaviour that harms you or your relationships. Therefore, it is suggested that we learn how to manage flooding to communicate better with our partners. 

What Triggers Emotional Flooding?

Flooding happens when our brain identifies something in our surroundings as a thread. This thread can trigger emotional flooding in us. In the state of flooding, something has triggered our body’s fight or flight response, increasing heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension. These physical symptoms can make it even harder to regulate emotions, think clearly, and communicate effectively. 

These triggers can stem from past trauma, previous experiences or conflict in our relationships. 

By recognizing and avoiding these triggers, you can reduce the frequency and severity of flooding.

Drs John and July Gottman suggest the use of physiological self-soothing to manage flooding. Because it helps to calm the body’s physiological response to stress, thereby reducing the severity and duration of the emotional overload. 

What is Physiologically Self-Soothing?

Physiological self-soothing is a technique that involves using our body’s natural ability to calm down and regulate emotions. Self-soothing is based on the idea that our bodies have an innate ability to calm down when we engage in certain behaviours or activities that triggers the stress response. 

For example, when we feel anxious or stressed, we might naturally rub our hands together, take deep breaths, or rock back and forth. These behaviours activate our body’s relaxation response, helping to calm us down. So, Physiological self-soothing is a simple and effective strategy that can help reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation and peace.

Some common self-soothing techniques include:

Deep breathing:

Taking deep breaths or slowing down your breathing can help to also reduce your heart rate. This can also support the regulation of your nervous system and slows it down. When you feel overwhelmed, you can take a moment and take some deep breaths. You can focus on inhaling and exhaling, concentrating on the feeling of your breath moving in and out of the body. This technique will help you to feel more relaxed and in control.

Progressive muscle relaxation:

When using this technique, you need to start tensing a muscle for a few seconds and then relax the same muscle. After that, you can move to a different part of your body. This technique can be done lying down or sitting in a comfortable position. Begin by tensing your feet and hold for a count of 10, then release. Work your way up through the body, tensing and relaxing each muscle group until you reach the head.

Mindfulness meditation: 

This technique is also a useful tool in managing flooding. This technique involves focusing on the present moment and letting go of distracting thoughts. You can practice mindfulness by sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, and simply observing your thoughts without judgment. This can help you feel more centred and in control of your emotions.

Sensory stimulation: 

Engaging your senses, such as with aromatherapy, a warm bath, or a soft blanket, can help to calm your mind and reduce stress. 


Gentle movements, such as walking or yoga, can activate your body’s relaxation response. In addition, it helps you feel more calm and more relaxed.

Grounding exercises: 

This is very similar to sensory stimulation. You can focus on the present moment, such as by counting your breaths or noticing the sensation of your feet on the ground. These techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety.

In addition to these physiological self-soothing techniques, it is important to establish a supportive environment in the relationship. This means that both partners should be able to articulate their thoughts and feeling, in an environment free of judgment, blame or criticism.

They should also be able to listen to each other’s perspectives and find ways to support each other through difficult emotions.

It is important to note that physiological self-soothing is not a substitute for professional help, especially if you are experiencing significant distress or anxiety. 

Please feel free to contact me if you or your partner are experiencing flooding and would like support in managing it better.  

I wish you all the best.

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