When you’re feeling overwhelmed, experts recommend you use mindfulness to help alleviate your stress. Which is great, except you may have no idea what mindfulness is and how to use it effectively to help your mental health.
During peak negative emotional experiences, it’s normal to spiral into self-bullying (e.g., telling yourself you aren’t worthy) and become overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. In fact, it’s what the anxiety and depression monsters feed on! The RAIN method is a perfect mindfulness strategy to take back your freedom from that negative self-talk.
The RAIN method is a form of mindfulness created by Michele McDonald over 20 years ago as an easy-to-use formula for anyone hoping to use mindfulness to combat stress and feeling overwhelmed.
What is the RAIN acronym?
RAIN is an acronym. It stands for:
Recognise (what is happening)
Allow (life to be, just as it is)
Investigate. (your inner experience with kindness)
Cognitive psychologists often adapt this highly effective method to help patients understand their minds better and help them tackle their unhelpful thoughts.
Here’s an in-depth look at each step and how you can use them to alleviate your stress:
The first step of the RAIN mindfulness method is to recognise that you are having strong emotions. Find a quiet place and get comfortable. Create a space that is free of distraction to allow yourself to focus on what is going on inside your head.
As you recognise the emotions running through your mind, try and label these emotions (overwhelmed, sad, anxious, angry, etc.) but make sure you approach these emotions without judgement. It’s ok to feel what you are feeling, and the point of the exercise is simply to observe.
Take note of the sensations in your body and the thoughts running through your mind. As stressful as it may feel, allow yourself to be present in your feelings rather than trying to avoid them.
The second step is to let your feelings be what they are going to be without trying to intercept them or judge them.
Imagine your feelings as a tree you are looking at through a window. There’s no need to engage with it or avoid it; you can simply allow it to be what it is without your input. When we feel uncomfortable emotions, we naturally tend to go into fight or flight mode.
Either you choose to avoid the uncomfortable feeling, which then makes your brain think this emotion is a threat, causing a strong, negative reaction every time you feel it.
Or, you engage with it, giving the emotion importance and causing you to spiral into an overthinking cycle that causes the emotion to grow stronger and the overwhelm to increase rapidly.
Observing our feelings without judgment gives us time to respond rationally and consciously, rather than reacting in panic without giving yourself time to think things through.
Now that you know what you are feeling and are able to observe it without judgements, it’s time to do some detective work.
It’s time to get to the bottom of why you are feeling so overwhelmed. So here are a few questions that might help.
- Did something happen today that may have triggered my response?
- How do I feel today? Am I feeling energetic, or do I feel a bit under the weather?
- How did I sleep last night?
- Is there something I need right now that I’m not getting?
- How can I support myself through this overwhelm?
- Is anything significant happening in my work or personal life at the moment that might have me feeling a bit more vulnerable than usual?
Understanding why you might be feeling this intense emotion can help you detach from it and rationalise what is going on so you can respond mindfully (if you indeed decide to respond at all).
The final step in the RAIN method is to detach yourself from your thoughts and feelings.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Not all your thoughts are facts. I know it sounds bizarre, but it’s true.
When we have strong emotions such as stress or fear, our brain feels it is necessary to attribute the feeling to an event or personality trait that can explain it. This is because our brains are primed for fight or flight against threats. But given that for most of us, a lion isn’t about to walk into our living room and threaten us, our brain tries to find other reasons we feel scared or stressed.
That’s how non-life-threatening events such as work can cause such visceral emotional responses.
So, it is important to remember; your emotion is not you. You do not have to engage with your emotion, and it doesn’t define who you are as a person. Your emotion can just be without justification, and it will float on by without any need to participate in it.
If it helps, you can try and see if your thoughts are based on fact or interpretation.
For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed and your brain is telling you, “I am not good enough,” step back and think – is there any evidence to thoroughly support this or am I just thinking this because I don’t feel good, therefore interpreting my thoughts and feelings.
It takes a lot of practice, but learning how to not identify with your thoughts and emotions, and realising they don’t define you, will help you approach your feelings with kindness and give you a sense of freedom.
The Background of the RAIN Method
The creation of the RAIN Method can be credited to mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald, who was known for using it as a mindfulness meditation. There are a number of psychologists who have since adapted the RAIN method, and have expanded on it. Tara Brach brought popularity to the method through her book, Radical Compassion. Tara Brach’s adaptation of the RAIN method made an alteration to N, being for Nurture.
Final Thoughts on The Rain Method for Mindfulness
The RAIN method uses mindfulness to help you feel free of your emotions. Of course, we can’t control when we have negative emotions or when they will go away, but we can help ourselves by not engaging or avoiding and simply letting them be.
Remember, you get to choose where you invest your energy, and just because negative emotions exist, it doesn’t mean we have to waste our energy on it.
Like the schoolyard bully that is constantly trying to get a rise out of their victims, when you don’t engage, they’ll soon get bored, give up, and leave you alone.