Jul 22

10 Shortcuts to Managing an Emotional Tsunami

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with an emotion you thought you were going to crawl out of your skin?  Most of us have at one point or another experience difficult to manage feelings.  I call this experience an Emotional Tsunami. Have you become the Tsunami? When this happens everything in path of the Tsunami is in danger.

Do you have extreme feelings of?

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Insecurity
  • Sorrow
  • Revenge
  • Confusion

Drowning and overwhelmed with feelings can be a difficult situation to ride out. There was and still are moments when a Tsunami visits me. There are skills you can learn to help.

Last week when I was at a neighbor’s summer party I had a moment when all I could see was red. Yes – indeed a RED TSUNAMI.  A brief description of the event follows

I was with my grandchildren (factious names to protect their identity), little Marie, age 10, a sweet fair haired girl eager to please and Richmond, an emerging young man at the vulnerable age of 14 with the very beginnings of fine whiskers on his chin.  They were playing on the other side of the yard when I noticed a look of confusion and fear on their faces. A woman was in the middle of the group of about six kids. She was holding up her hands. You get the idea? She was taunting Richmond to hit the other kid. As I approached I heard her spout “you’re a chicken.”  OMG – then the RED TSUNAMI took over.

Angry hand

Angry hand

This situation triggered my anger. Whew! As I got closer I saw the kids in the group paralyzed. Marie was on the verge of tears and Richmond in the center with his fists by his side stiff as a board like a stone statue.  One kid was slumping with poor posture and eyes downturned.

My immediate reaction was to attach the woman and protect my loved ones.  I stopped in my tracks so I could gain my composure.  It was a time to use the skills I teach to people who come to see me in my private practice.  It is a technique called physicalizing feelings.  Below are 10 possible steps which helped me and can help you ride out an EMOTONAL TSUNAMI.  The urge to wallop on that woman and give her a good thrashing was a thought that crossed my mind. I am exaggerating a bit, however, I was pissed.  Okay here are the steps to physicalizing a feeling.

  1. Where do you feel it in your body?
  2. Imagine what shape it is?
  3. Does it have a color(s)?
  4. Is there a texture inside or outside?
  5. Does it have or make a sound?
  6. Is it heavy or light?
  7. If it had a smell what would it smell like?
  8. What its name if it had a name?
  9. Now, draw a line around it
  10. All the while breathe into it. Keep the visualization of it and continue to breathe into it and through it.
  11. An extra step: Does it have any energy/moving?
Seeing Red

Seeing Red

If this is a challenge at first that’s okay. It is a skill you can learn and develop.

I have practiced this often throughout my life and it helps the more it is practiced. What this process allows me to do is to have space between my immediate reactions to my feelings and the opportunity to make choices. It can work the same for you. In that space, I can make choices to act in a way that works for the situation.  The process is not intended to GET RID of feelings. Physicalizing allows you to choose your actions. I did not wallop nor thrash the woman. I firmly told her to stop and asked her to leave the kids alone. Actually, she left the party. Yeah! Then I had a discussion with Marie and Richmond after I made sure the other little guy with the turned downed eyes found his parents.

The first time I physicalized a feeling was as a writing assignment. Try it. Take some quiet time when you are alone undisturbed and write for 15 to 20 minutes about one of your emotional tsunamis.  Hint: Go through the steps as written above. Take time as you write to notice, as a curious observer, your own experience.

I am interested if you have secrets you want to share about how you ride the waves of an Emotional Tsunami? Also, leave a comment and let me know how and if Physicalizing works for you.

Related Posts:

  1. How to Find Direction: Use Your Values
  2. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  3. The shocking Truth About Who’s Driving the Bus

Related Internet Posts:

  1. Mindful Muse: Feeling Overwhelmed and Caring for Yourself
  2.  Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
  3. SoberNation: Emotional Sobriety

(C) Copyright Brenda M. Bomgardner 2013



  1. Carol Cummings

    This is a fantastic solution for those intense moments that catch us by surprise when we react before we have a chance to think of the consequences of our behavior. Following these steps slows us down enough to think more clearly and most definitely make better choices when we respond.

  2. Brenda Bomgardner

    Carol, You got it. I was trying to respond back earlier this week and there was a technical glitch with the hosting company.

    Anyway you get the whole idea. Physicalizing truly allow us to make better choices for how we want to be in this world. When we spend a little time imaging our feelings as physical we can then become more open to our own information. A lot of times a trigger word or phrase touches our history and we can use that to take time to put that history in perspective. In other words we have the opportunity to embrace a more deictic experience, “That was then this is now,” and, “I was there and now I am here.”

    Empathy and self-compassion grow from the ability to experience deictic relationships. What this means is when we can put ourselves “I – here – now” in “you – there – then” place and know what the experience might be like. I realize the discussion on deictic relating is more than what can be discussed here it is a strong component to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Training and Therapy).

    Glad to have you visit. Warmly –

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