By Ryan Cocron, LMFT, CAADC
What is Flooding?
When we begin to have strong emotions, especially anxiety, trauma responses, anger etc, we can lose our sense of being present. This process of strong emotions taking over is sometimes referred to as “flooding” by therapists (Psychology Today). When we begin to flood we can get tunnel vision, become distant, or become angry. This happens because we are effectively in a fight or flight state. Our brain is designed to go into fight or flight when we experience high levels of stress because it is trying to protect us. This is useful if we’re in a life or death situation, but not if we got a negative email from our boss or our partner said something to upset us. An antidote for this process is grounding.
What is grounding?
Grounding is a practice that I use with my clients daily. It is the process of being totally present and connected to your body (Psychology Today). Examples of grounding techniques often discussed online and in therapy include mindfulness or meditation. These can both be helpful in calming the automatic process of fight or flight and help to increase presence in the body. Other techniques I often recommend include:
- Connecting to our senses. Rather than focusing on the rush of thoughts that can occur in fight or flight, it can be helpful to focus instead on our senses. I will tell clients to close their eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Then I will have them observe one or two sounds that they hear. After that I will lead them through doing the same with sight (focusing on a few colors they see in the room), taste (drinking or taking a bite of something and noticing where the taste lands on their tongue), smell (a smell in their room), and finally touch (touching a few materials around them such as their clothing or chair that they are sitting in.
- Taking a cold or cool shower
- Drinking cold water
- Taking a bite out of a lime or lemon. The strong acidity can quickly shift the brain away from fight or flight.
- Doing math problems. I recently learned that this can be helpful because it uses the logic based or rational part of the brain rather than the reactive part.
The next time you find yourself flooding try one of these techniques and you may find that you can calm yourself down and be more present.