Simplicity is a key ingredient for making it through to the other side of uncomfortable, painful or intense emotions.
So is finding a way to put the breaks on.
The RAIN acronym, developed by Dr Tara Brach (clinical psychologist and mindfulness expert) is a four-step process to help you to weather emotional storms. RAIN draws on the evidence-based principles of mindfulness.
“R” stands for recognising what’s happening for you
Before you can do anything, you need to stop and recognise that you’re experience a wave of emotion.
This is literally as simple as saying to yourself, “I’m feeling flooded”, “I’ve just noticed I am feeling anxious” or “I’m not feeling like myself right now”.
Play around with finding your own words. By naming it, you’re taming it. When we put words to our experience, we have it, instead of it having us. This idea is at the heart of mindfulness.
“A” stands for allowing
Allow things to be just as they are for this moment.
Rallying against your emotions and trying to think your way out of how you are feeling will only make your experience feel stronger. Accept that you right now you are in the middle of some big emotions. It’s important to note that allowing is not the same as liking, wanting or approving of what’s happening for you. It’s just accepting that that’s how it is right now, even if you don’t want it to be.
Try to make space for what you’re feeling without adding any other layers to it. Try to resist the urge to judge, analyse, justify or dismiss what you’re feeling.
Ask yourself, can I just be with this feeling, even just for these next few moments?
This step might seem counterintuitive at first, but when you try it you might notice a sense of things slowing down. A feeling of giving yourself permission just to be in the space that you’re in, without the pressure to change, analyse or fix it.
“I” stands for investigating what’s happening for you
Be curious. Try to get to know what’s going on for you in these moments.
1. What sort of things are you saying to yourself?
I’m hopeless. This is all my fault. I’m not loveable. I feel so alone.
2. What sort of emotions are coming up for you?
Anger, shame, hurt, embarrassment, hopelessness, fear, sadness or panic.
3. What do you want to do when you feel this way?
Shut others out, become attacking, numb your feelings by sleeping, drinking, keeping busy or watching TV, withdraw from your life, take the day off work or become overly controlling.
4. What do you notice in your body?
A sinking feeling, stomach churning, racing heart, heaviness, low energy or shaking.
Once the moment has passed and you have some breathing space it can help to go back and reflect on what it feels like when you’re in this headspace focusing on these four key areas. That way when you notice yourself going down this path, you’re familiar with how it tends to unfold and can catch things before they escalate.
“N” stands for non-identification
This is about stepping back and recognising that there is a part of you that is separate from the emotions you are experiencing. There is a part of you that is able to practice putting the brakes on and observing how you are feeling without getting tangled up in it.
By realising this, you are able to zoom out and recognise that there is more to you than your fear, anger, hurt or hopelessness. There is much more to you than the feelings that come and go in your life.
Now of course, the RAIN acronym is no magic bullet for working your way through moments of emotional overwhelm. It seems like we’re yet to find the magic bullet for this actually! This handy little acronym is simply about giving yourself an anchor for weathering emotional storms. Like all of the strategies we explore on our blog, it takes practice and patience.
Next time you notice yourself feeling a big emotion (or emotions), give RAIN a go and see what you think. You might also like to read about some other tools for managing strong emotions in another one of our blogs, as well as our approach to mindfulness in therapy.