Emotional First Aid
It really is amazing how we are all taught about hygiene and physical first aid – you know what to do when your hands are dirty before handling food, or when someone has scrapped their knee, all the way to CPR – yet we are never trained or educated in providing emotional first aid for our thoughts and feelings such as how to handle stress, negative environments, difficult relationships and so on.
As our thoughts and feelings control so much of our daily existence, it makes sense to learn some emotional first aid.
In this article I want to start with those pesky negative thoughts and emotions. You know the ones that won’t go away and keep going around in your head!
There are times for all of us when we experience anger, grief, anxiety, stress, remorse, embarrassment or any of the range of negative emotions. Life is not always easy and in those trying times we struggle mentally with our thoughts and emotions, trying to talk our way out of them, or possibly trying to distract ourselves with activities or trying to drown it out with food, or drink or something even stronger.
Interestingly all these paths perpetuate negativity in the long run. So what can you do? How can you stop those negative thoughts and feelings?
How about instead of trying to suppress them, you turn your attention inwards?
I use this great little 4 step process to help deal with negative thoughts and emotions. It is called RAIN.
RAIN stands for –
The first step is to recognise and name what is happening and what you are feeling. “I am feeling stressed” or “I am feeling overwhelmed”. Stop for a moment and tune into the present moment of what is happening in your body and mind – the thoughts, the emotions, the sensations. Don’t inhibit what is happening, or suppress it, or ignore it or try to conquer it. Instead develop an attitude of open curiosity and acceptance.
Acknowledge that the emotion is there.
By recognising and naming what you are feeling you are giving yourself the space to care for yourself.
The acknowledgement and acceptance of your feelings and thoughts provides a sense of permission to allow life to be just as it is. Allowing doesn’t mean we have to like the situation however it does soften or drop our mental resistance to what is happening. You can embrace or hold the feeling in your awareness, which in turn can calm and soothe you.
This step is so important as we generally have an unconscious impulse to push away, suppress or ignore difficult emotions. When we engage in this inner struggle we unwittingly create more suffering and tension.
By allowing yourself to accept your present emotions and thoughts without judgment, you will almost immediately have a sense of softening and ease around the emotion, as you will have created a mental space around it. You are now witnessing your emotion rather than being enmeshed by it.
This is then an act of self-compassion.
Now that you are calmer and allowing yourself to sit with whatever negative thought or emotion you may be experiencing, you can ask yourself questions like “Why do I feel this way?” “Where did this feeling come from?” “What is it that I really need?”
Ask what event may have triggered the feeling. Or are there physical factors such as lack of sleep. It may be that particular kinds of thoughts were the cause – worrying about something or someone, ruminating over a comment a colleague made last week, and so on. You may also find that you have particular values or beliefs of how things should be that may have contributed to your negative feelings.
By asking these questions and investigating where the negativity comes from, we can develop a truly insightful relationship with our emotions and thoughts. And as time goes by, we can even resolve and dissolve some of the negative thoughts or emotions.
This step is the simple realisation that you are not your mind or your emotions. You are the awareness that lies beneath every thought, emotion and sense perception.
Non-identification means that you are truly not defined by your thoughts and emotions. This brings a sense of freedom and ease, and at the heart of it all a sense of peace.
Remember that no matter how intense or painful the emotional storm, there is always a part of you, which is still, silent and untouched.
The RAIN method can be used anytime you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or out of touch. It helps to centre you during challenging times.
As Eckhart Tolle said, “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists”.
To learn more about the RAIN method, read the works of Tara Brach such as http://www.mindful.org/tara-brach-rain-mindfulness-practice/. Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and author of “True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.”