Life can be a roller-coaster of emotions, it’s not anyone’s fault. it’s just the way life is. There are often moments that are overwhelming and difficult to endure which can feel scary. Sometimes, negative emotions surface out of the blue for no obvious reason leaving us feeling angry, anxious, stressed out, sad or even embarrassed.
When a negative emotion rears its head, its very normal to avoid facing it by distracting ourselves with activities like food or drink or something stronger.
Sadly life is such that we all face hardship but the intensity of emotional pain for each one of us can vary from small setbacks like feeling excluded, to intense grief of a significant loss.
The problem is, the more we try to avoid emotional pain the more likely we are to experience it because we are unable to develop the skills needed to cope. By not accepting suffering we give negative emotions permission to control us because no matter how hard we try to escape them, emotions have a way of reappearing possibly in the form of panic attacks, depression or by engaging in unhealthy behaviours like substance abuse, eating disorders, pathological gambling, internet addiction, excessive worry or over-exercising to name a few.
Mindfulness can be your greatest teacher to help you face suffering and accept it as part of the human experience. It gives you the opportunity to step back and understand that emotions are temporary. The more you face up to uncomfortable feelings, the less intense the emotional experience. In the long run you learn to cope with experiencing pain while it also massively enhances happier moments, a paradox we must all understand.
RAIN - 4 Steps to Manage Negative Emotions
Here is a very well known mindfulness practice called RAIN (an acronym for the four steps of the process), it can be used in any situation or place. It directs your attention in a clear, systematic way that cuts through confusion and stress.
R – Recognise.
You can do this by simply asking yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?” Keep an open kind mind and listen to what you are feeling. Name the emotion if you can.
A – Accept.
Allow the thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations that may feel unpleasant to just be. This emotion is present in the here and now at this very moment. Just “Let it be”.
I – Investigate.
Pause and simply ask yourself
“Where am I feeling this emotion in my body?”
“What thoughts am I thinking? “
“What experience led to this feeling?”
“What does this feeling want from me?”
N – Non-identification.
This means maintaining a sense of who you are by simply observing the emotions. Emotions are temporary feelings that will pass, watching them come and go like thoughts can help you regain control. Imagine you are like a mountain, in the midst of a storm it remains still. Similarly during a difficult time, know that the feelings will pass and there is always a part of you that remains still and untouched by it. Have the attitude “sadness is weighing me down at the moment but it will soon melt away”. “Anger is rising up in me like a furnace but at some point it will start to settle and cool down.” Non -identification is a powerful step that disentangles you from the negative emotions replacing it with inner peace and awareness.
R.A.I.N. and related practices of spacious awareness are fundamental to mental health, and always worth doing in their own right. Sometimes you may find that one step is enough to help you manage the negative emotions but you may need to go through all four steps of the process which is recommended during challenging times.