RAIN: How to Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Other Difficult Emotions

Neil Wolfson, MEd, LCSW on May 01, 2023 in Mood and Feelings

What do you do with powerful and uncomfortable emotions? Do you fight them? Do you avoid them? Often times, people do one or the other. The problem is that these approaches only lead to a cycle of even more pain — deeper depression, greater stress and anxiety, or more anger. There is a way to practice stress management and manage other uncomfortable emotions, even to work with them in order to transform them into something greater. What we resist persists. What we fight only grows stronger. Avoidance is just another form of resisting, so both coping strategies lead to more of the same (but worse).

RAIN is an easy-to-remember mindfulness acronym to help you identify what you are feeling, work with it, and put yourself in a position to do something about these emotions that will be more productive than fighting or avoiding them. It’s a very simple acronym to use, and the more you practice it, the easier and more effective it becomes. You will see your mental and emotional wellbeing increase.

Here it goes:

Recognize: Recognize and identify what you are thinking/feeling. It is helpful to put your emotions in terms like: “This is anger” or “I am feeling depressed” rather than “I am angry” or “I am depressed.” You can do the latter, but it can lead you to feeling more stuck in those emotions. The former helps you to objectify the emotions, making them a thing separate from who and what you are. This approach to identifying your emotions alone can provide a powerful shift in how you relate to them.

Allow/Accept: Instead of fighting the emotion, embrace it, accept its presence; don't run from it but rather stay with it, allow yourself to feel it. You can even think of yourself giving a hug to your emotion like it’s a child needing support and compassion. In fact, that’s what it is: a younger part of you that is acting out because it is hurting. You can begin to make yourself feel whole by giving that part of your self what it needs: patience, love, and kindness.

Investigate: Look inwards. Look at what is behind these emotions, and do so without judgement. Our emotions serve a purpose. They are information that we can act on. After you recognize and allow/embrace your difficult emotion, then it’s helpful to explore what’s behind the feelings as well as take any steps you can to help soothe them. Maybe it’s writing in a journal or talking to a loved one or going for a walk or listening to relaxing music. Use any of the helpful coping strategies you have learned (and there are many more to learn!). The more you do this, the better you will understand where your emotions come from and how to manage them. Instead of feeling like you are at the mercy of your emotions, you will start to feel more empowered. There are many coping strategies that I can teach you to utilize when you get to this point.

Non-identification: This means to recognize that while you feel these feelings, you are NOT these feelings... They are temporary sensations in the body that are the result of your perspective about the situation you are in. Another way to think about the N is Not My Story. In other words, these are your feelings, but they are not who or what you are. You are much more than an emotion. Imagine you’re watching a horror movie in the theater and forget that you are an audience member and instead begin to see yourself as the victim being chased by the monster. Through non-identification, you can remember that you are not just experiencing your life, you are also watching it happen. This perspective gives you a greater viewpoint from which to experience your moment-to-moment life, which includes your difficult emotions like anxiety, stress, depression, and anger (among many others).

Practice using this mindfulness exercise when you find that you are having a tough time with your emotions. The idea is to not run from the emotion but to settle the body down and see it for what it is. This can be very empowering. Try RAIN for one week and notice the changes in your life!

Neil Wolfson is a Mental Health Counselor in Boynton Beach, FL.

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