Commotion, agitation, tumult, turmoil, turbulence, confusion, convulsion, upheaval are comparable when they designate great physical, mental, or emotional excitement. All carry this general meaning yet have applications which fit them for narrower use in specific senses.
Commotion always implies movement to and fro that may be violent and disturbing or that may be merely sharply in contrast to a usual calm. It is used physically of storms, especially as they affect the movement of the seas and of unusual bustle or hubbub.
Even when commotion represents mental or emotional excitement, it indirectly suggests movement in heightening the ideas of unrest and perturbation.
Agitation, on the other hand, suggests a stirring up or a shaking up comparable physically to that accompanying a fermentation or to boiling or seething.
Usually it describes strong emotional excitement that, whether controlled or not, causes distress or pain to the person involved.
It also may refer to the stirring up of men’s minds and emotions on some usually emotionally charged matter or question.
Tumult may mean, generally, either commotion or agitation that is characterized by uproar, din, or great disorder. It also may apply specifically to a riot or fracas or to an insurrection or rebellious outbreak, but it is equally applicable to other things (as a violent disturbance of the elements or an agitating conflict of passions) that suggest in combination noise, disorder, and intense excitement.
Turmoil implies a state where nothing is at rest and where everything seethes with excitement. It is applicable to a state of physical commotion or to a condition of mental or emotional agitation, but in all cases it carries a suggestion of harassment and of ferment from which there seems no escape. In fact, it often connotes the point of view of a person who loves peace and hates disturbance.
Turbulence implies an excitement that cannot be easily put down or allayed; it may suggest impetuosity, insubordination, unruliness, lack of discipline, or comparable qualities in inanimate things.
Confusion (see also CONFUSION) applies chiefly to a mental state which may affect one person or many and which is marked by such a condition that the mind is at sea and unable to function; usually it suggests perturbation and inability to think coherently often as a result of embarrassment or discomfiture.
Convulsion and upheaval suggest large-scale violent activity, commotion, or agitation.
More particularly convulsion implies a sudden, surging, confused, or spasmodic action (as in the earth’s crust, the individual’s mind, or the body politic) while upheaval implies a violent and forceful thrusting that results in a heaving up or overthrowing.