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French philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne said it well – “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened.”

When things are not going the way we want, we sometimes create the illusion that they are worse than they actually are. In her book “Self-Compassion,” Dr. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. suggests being mindful of fear and anxiety (and other emotions) rather than over-identifying with them can save us from a lot of unnecessary pain.

Doctors and psychologists have concluded even minor daily stressors, such as waiting for a bus, driving in traffic or facing a deadline, have an effect on our bodies – from muscle tension, headaches, and insomnia, to more serious conditions such as heart disease and dementia. The ability to respond to stress with equanimity has deep implications for our health.

Experts in the field suggest practising mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve overall wellness. Mindfulness is the art of acknowledging what’s happening “in the present” without distorting it, by simply observing thoughts and feelings as they come and go – in a nonjudgmental way.

It is the act of living in the moment – without dwelling on the past or getting caught up in what will happen in the future. It’s about being present in the present.

The R.A.I.N. technique

When dealing with stress and challenging emotions, mindfulness practitioners recommend R.A.I.N. as a tool for practising mindfulness. Take a deep breath and follow these four steps:

Recognize what is going on

Allow the experience to be there, just as it is

Investigate with kindness

Not-identify with what is there

Recognize The first step is to simply acknowledge and recognize when you feel a strong emotion. Try using single words to identify the emotion, such as fear, anger or loneliness.

Allow We tend to want to hold on to pleasant experiences and try and rid ourselves of unpleasant ones. Allow the emotion to be there rather than supressing it; our desire to suppress an unwanted emotion only makes it stronger. You don’t need to like the emotion, but try accepting that it’s there. Be with it, in a nonjudgmental way rather than categorizing it as good or bad.

Investigate Approach and explore the emotion with curiosity. Notice how the emotion, thought or feeling is affecting you; what are the physical effects on your body? Maybe you will feel pain around your shoulders or a knot in your stomach. Be aware of how it makes you feel.

Not-identify This is perhaps the most important step of the R.A.I.N. technique. This technique helps us separate the emotion or feeling from who we are. Emotions do not define who we are: they are temporary and passing states of mind. If we are able to disentangle ourselves from the emotion, we can step back and observe it (almost like watching a TV show) with more clarity, develop a deeper understanding of the emotion and what drives it without over identifying with it.

Don’t ignore the good emotions, but don’t overly rely on them either. In mindfulness, we are taught to observe and hold both experiences – good and bad. Let all emotions flow through you and appreciate that all things in life ebb and flow.

As Dr. Neff puts it: Isn’t it more interesting to revel in the full range of human experience? Instead of trying to control ourselves and our lives to obtain a perfectionist ideal, why not embrace life as it is – both the light and the shadow?

Next time you are facing a strong emotion, try the R.A.I.N technique. And don’t forget to breathe!

To continue the journey, see these books: Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., published by William Morrow, April 2011; A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Bob Stahl, Ph.D. and Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., New Harbinger Publications, February 2010.

Categories: Wellness and Balance