Anxiety and the RAIN Method
Anxiety can sometimes feel like it can take over and there’s no escape. It can distract from school, work, sleep, and time with family and friends. It can make it really hard to stay present. It can sometimes feel like a vicious cycle: anxiety and racing thoughts make it hard to sleep, which makes you tired the next day and makes it difficult to perform at work or school, or to show up for your loved ones. Anxiety from not performing as well as you would like to can then run through your mind and cause you to have trouble sleeping. That is just one way the vicious cycle of anxiety can appear, but there are many others. Oftentimes, anxiety comes up as a way to protect you from something you fear. Although anxiety can feel like an annoying, unwelcome presence in your life, with some investigating, it can also tell you a little something about this fear; the root of the anxiety. Using the RAIN (recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture) method is a helpful way to figure that out, attend to it, and reduce anxiety.
The RAIN method can be considered as a form of mindfulness. Meditation or mindfulness is a great option to reduce anxiety, but can often feel intimidating. How can one go from overflowing thoughts to not thinking anything? I believe that mindfulness and meditation are somewhat misunderstood. Meditation and mindfulness do not mean that you have to rid your mind of thoughts. They often involve simply slowing down and observing thoughts, and then choosing whether or not to act on them. The RAIN method helps you do just that: slow down and observe the thoughts and investigate what our bodies are trying to tell us through the anxiety. RAIN stands for: Recognize what’s happening, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture.
Setting up for The RAIN Method
One reason why I like the RAIN method is because it is a more active mindfulness exercise, making it easier for beginners. It also helps get you comfortable with identifying and allowing your emotions. So, how do you set up for the RAIN method?
You can do the RAIN method wherever and whenever you need or want to. However, if this is your first time using it or really engaging in mindfulness, it is helpful to set yourself up for success. This means getting in a space where you have some uninterrupted time and feel comfortable. It could be in the shower, before you go to bed, or just during a break in the day. I suggest finding a comfortable position and closing your eyes to minimize distractions. If you feel you need to revisit this tip during your practice, please do so, and I recommend closing your eyes when you are reflecting on the questions or going through the steps.
So, now that you are set up for success, what is the RAIN method and how do you do it?
The RAIN Method
R- Recognize what’s happening/ what’s going on. Consciously acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and emotions that are impacting you. This also includes sensations or tightness in your body. These factors are all intertwined and work together to impact you. Good, bad, or neutral. Bringing attention to and recognizing them is an important first step in allowing, investigating, and nurturing them. This can often be a difficult step. So, it can be helpful to do a body scan, which involves methodically “scanning” each part of your body, often starting at your feet and asking yourself how it feels. Another helpful technique is to move around certain areas in your body where you know you hold tension or may feel tight. This could mean rolling your shoulders back or just moving your jaw from side to side. But try to spend some time on each part of your body and give it some attention. Cognitively and emotionally, it can be difficult to do this step as well, as we are not conditioned to want to acknowledge or give space to uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. But try to notice them. Do you feel sad? Do you feel anxious? What are these feelings that you may have? What are the thoughts going through your head? Just try to notice without any judgment.
A- Allow the experience. Take a moment to relax any resistance to allowing yourself to fully experience what you just recognized. There likely will be resistance because these thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and emotions are uncomfortable and our brains are often wired to minimize feeling discomfort. Now, let your experience just be. Don’t push anything away, don’t try to hide, don’t try to diminish. Just let them be. There is always space between our experiences and how we react. Additionally, by giving these experiences some space and oxygen, it allows them to be seen. When experiences are not given the space it deserves and we push them away, oftentimes they continue to come back and we spend more energy and more time thinking about them than if we just let them be. Try to observe without reacting. You can imagine yourself sitting in a movie theater and watching the thoughts and feelings on a screen, or you can imagine them as bubbles or leaves that you place in a stream. We do not have to fight our thoughts and feelings, we can just let them be, investigate what they may be telling us, and decide not to act on them. Sometimes thoughts don’t mean anything, but the more we push them away, the more they come back, plaguing us and convincing us they mean something. Thoughts and feelings are like a beachball. When we try to push them under the surface, they want to come back up with more force. Eventually, we will have to let go and they’ll pop up in the air, causing them to be more noticeable. However, if we just let the beachball float on top of the water, it won’t pop up in the air. We learn to swim together with it. It will just be.
I-Investigate with interest and care. Investigating our experiences and our thoughts is the next step. It is important to do so with no judgment and with compassion. Don’t beat yourself up over these feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Be compassionate with yourself and how you experience them. Ask yourself, “Where may this be coming from?” “What wants the most attention here?” “How am I experiencing this in my body?” “What do I believe about this?” “How does this make me feel?” “What is my body or this vulnerable place telling me I need?” “What does it need the most?” Maybe your body is telling you it needs some compassion, some love, a break, encouragement etc. Remember to approach these questions with genuine care, compassion, and non judgment. At the end of the day, thoughts are just thoughts. Have you ever tried to tell yourself not to be sad or happy or hurt by something? Has it ever worked? Probably not. That’s part of the reason why it is so important to approach these thoughts and feelings with no judgment. This may feel foreign because our natural reaction to seeing someone in pain is to tell them that “it’s fine” or not a big deal. There is little room in our society to just allow feelings. If you are having trouble with this, try to think of your experience or thoughts as though they are coming from you as a child. If your inner child were to say they were feeling a certain way, would you just shut them down? Probably not. You would handle them with care.
N- Nurture with self-compassion. Now that you have investigated what the hurt inside you needs, offer yourself some care, or try to meet those needs. Give yourself that pat on the back or some love that you may do for someone else or want them to do for you. Place your hand on your heart and tell yourself “I am worthy,” “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “it’s not your fault,” “I’m listening,” “you can do it,” or whatever else you may need. Make sure that it is a gesture of active care that addresses the needs that your body is telling you. Test different strategies and see what feels best. Strategies include whispering a message out loud or in your head, placing your hand on your heart or cheek, visualizing yourself being embraced by warmth or light, taking a warm bath, or anything else you can think of. Be there for yourself in the way that you need or in the way that you wish someone else was there for you. Think about what you are looking for when you ask someone for help or tell them about a problem. Sometimes others will go directly into problem solving mode when all we need is for someone to be there for us. Really try to provide the resources your body is telling you it needs as opposed to what we may be conditioned to do.
There is another version of RAIN where N stands for non-identification or natural awareness. In this version, you rest in your natural loving awareness, and not get caught up in the experience. This involves bringing your attention to your own presence and the degree to which you may still feel burdened to the anxiety or underlying fear. While I have found the nurture with self-compassion “n” works better for mindfulness beginners, you may find that non-identification or natural awareness speaks more to you. That’s okay! Mindfulness should be unique and specific to you, so adapt this however you feel is best to you.
The RAIN method is one strategy that can help calm anxiety and racing thoughts. It can also act as an introduction to mindfulness and self-compassion. If you are looking for more strategies to calm racing thoughts, read my previous tip here. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, The Center for Growth offers a mindfulness based skills groups, which you can learn more about here.
Anxiety is really difficult and can impact your life, work, sleep, and relationships. The RAIN method is just one strategy to cope, and anxiety therapy is another great solution. The Center for Growth offers anxiety, depression, gratitude, and mindfulness based therapy at our offices in Philadelphia, PA, Mechanicsville, VA, Ocean City, NJ, and Santa Fe, NM. We also offer virtual therapy in GA and FL. Please call 215-922-5683 or self schedule an appointment with one of our therapists.