The pandemic has instilled anxiety in everyone. If you are like me, you will find yourself often getting caught up in reading and worrying about Coronavirus. How people handle anxiety is a continuum from being overwhelmed and feeling helpless; to feeling anxious which spurs us to action; to ignoring the facts and pretending it is no big deal. We move from one spot on the continuum to another throughout the day. We basically have three choices, we bury our head in the sand and pretend the anxiety doesn’t exist, we continue being overwhelmed by anxiety, or we can acknowledge our anxiety and use RAIN to process and release it.
Let’s look the four steps of RAIN:
Recognize means to simply become aware of what is happening right now, without rose colored or dark glasses. It means becoming conscious of more of the 2,000-3,000 thoughts we have each hour. Some of those thoughts are our inner critic judging us or repeating painfully constricting beliefs. We often totally ignore it on the surface by saying, “It’s all good.” or “I’m fine.” But it keeps poking us underneath. When we are poked unconsciously, we often feel uncomfortable sensations in our body, which we also ignore. But those sensations are trying to communicate to us. For example, if you are constantly shaking your leg, that tells you there is some unconscious anxiety you need to deal with. While shaking the leg releases some of the anxious energy, the anxiety keeps feeding itself. We can use the uncomfortable sensations as a bell of mindfulness, telling us to be aware of our thoughts, beliefs or feelings instead of sweeping them under the rug.
To Recognize we answer the question: What is happening inside me right now, how am I feeling?
Allow means to admitting that our suffering actually exists. We see clearly that the external world is not meeting our wishes, and accept that we cannot change it. We concede that we cannot control the external world, but we can control our reaction to it. It’s when you stop fighting what is real, so you can learn from it and choose how to respond. Allowing lets us turn toward our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and sensations instead of pushing them away. We befriend our negative emotions. Just as massage hurts when you press on the hurt area, it releases the pain.
To Allow we answer the question: Can I be with this?
To Investigate, call on your natural curiosity to see what is really going on. This is not an intellectual analysis that will leave you feeling drained. If you feel drained, you are too much in your head. Let your heart answer the question: Are you sure? And if you are a know-it-all like me your immediate asnwer will be yes. Ask again. And again. Are you sure you are being triggered by someone’s words or actions, or are you triggered because of the baggage you carry? Are you sure you understand their true intention? Are you sure they are out to get you? Are you sure the belief that comes up is true? Are you sure you cannot accept reality? Are you sure there is nothing you can’t change? Are you sure you have to react in your habitual way?
With Investigation, the focus is on the present moment, not the past. We look deeply at the present moment to see what we need to transform our suffering. We break things down so we can better understand them. When we look deeply at things, we also have to listen deeply. Then we use the mud of our life as nutriment for our growth.
To Investigate ask the Question: What do you most long for right now? Attention? Safety? Acceptance? Connection? Understanding? Love?
Nurture is providing self-compassion to ourselves. We can train ourselves to allow self-compassion to arise naturally when we recognize we are suffering. By nurturing ourselves with self-care, it gives us the strength to face uncomfortable emotions and helps us realize that we are not alone. To nurture ourselves we do have to let go of the belief that we do not deserve to be nurtured.
Nurturing is sensing what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need. Think about how you would treat a loved one or valued friend in the same situation.
When we practice self-compassion, it becomes stronger. At first it can be very uncomfortable to put your hand on your heart, or to mentally whisper the message we need to hear. Eventually we become comfortable using our inner goodness to give ourselves what we need. We can provide ourselves with a message of reassurance, “You can do this.” Or of forgiveness, “You did the best you could with the knowledge and skills you had at the time.” Or of love, “You are worthy of love. I am here for you.”
To Nurture ask the question: What does the hurting, frightened, wounded place inside of you need right now?
What I have learned in the past week or so is that anxiety is a lot like grief. It is not one emotion, but an amalgamation of many emotions. And we can’t deal with all those emotions at once. When we try to, we get overwhelmed and feel trapped. But if we break down the anxiety to each underlying emotion, we can process one feeling at a time using RAIN.
Looking at the order of RAIN above, it appears that they are steps to be taken in order. And if you are dealing with small irritations and mildly unpleasant emotions, that is often the case. However, when you are dealing with something as overwhelming as the pandemic, you may need to bounce from one to the other. For example, if you are on the overwhelmed side of the anxiety continuum you may not have the ability to Recognize all you are feeling and to Allow those feelings to be.
I definitely found that to be the case. I have been in a rut of extreme anxiety since the national emergency was called. On the Saturday after the emergency was called, my husband and I did a day of mindfulness to replace the one that was cancelled. Initially I thought the timing could not have been more perfect as it gave me the opportunity to sit with my anxiety. Then the real world imposed itself. When meditating, my mind was going all over the place. And my hands and legs did not want to stay still. Throughout the first sit, I kept forcing myself to return to my breath. I started beating myself up saying, you are a mindfulness meditation teacher, you should be able to sit with anxiety. Needless to say, this only made the 45-minute sit feel longer and harder.
In the next sit, I thought I would use RAIN to get my anxiety under control. Starting with Recognizing that I was anxious was not difficult. Paying attention to feel what it felt like in my body, I felt a jumpiness. A feeling of wanting to run away from everything. I tried to turn toward the anxiety and really look at it. I may have softened a little, but I was still pushing it away. I could not Allow it to be there. I jumped from one facet of the anxiety to another, trying to come up with a fix for each.
If I would have followed the steps sequentially, I would have never moved past Allow. I decided that I needed to look deeply at my anxiety so it was not so scary. And that is when I discovered that anxiety was not just one emotion, but many. In this time of pandemic, the worries are many: our health, the health of loved one, the economic impact, the impact on our routines, the impact on our connection with others, just to name a few. The Investigating was not analyzing why I felt the way I felt. It was more just looking at the anxiety and just allowing myself the feel the feelings the anxiety was pushing away. By Investigating, I realized that I needed to take the feelings one at a time. Together they were just too big for me to deal with. Instead of focusing on what I could not do, such as Allow and process the whole big anxiety, I could focus on what I could do.
The first thing I needed was to resource myself so I had the energy to work to release the anxiety. That meant the Nurture step had to come first. Elisha Goldstein suggests you make a list of things you can do to nurture yourself so you have them available when you need them. Remember our prefrontal cortex turns off during times of high stress, so that is not the best time to figure out what we need. Unfortunately, I had not done that so I needed to look at the fear and see what I needed.
One of the fears of the pandemic was the fear of becoming disconnected from those I love. I Recognized the sadness underneath the fear that the pandemic would isolate me. I couldn’t jump in the car to go visit my siblings, or my kids and grandkids. This made me miss them a lot. While I definitely don’t like it, I can Allow that the pandemic is here and will last as long as it lasts. Through Investigation, I saw that I was believing that I was going to be isolated from everyone but Walt. I realized that while that felt real, it was not true. I could Nurture myself by calling my sisters, brother and friends, FaceTiming with my kids and grandkids, and meeting with my Sangha via Zoom. Knowing that, I felt less helpless. It opened me enough to see other opportunities to connect such as setting up a weekly Green Family Zoom call.
Another fear is the fear of the unknown. As a recovering know-it-all, I Recognize that it is very difficult for me to live with uncertainty. Spending too much time reading about the Coronavirus feeds that fear. No one knows how bad this is going to get or how long it will last. I try to reduce the uncertainty by reading information on the Internet. And sometimes that is healthy, because I learn information that I need to keep me and others safe: learning how to wash hands, how long the virus lasts on certain material, how to create social distance. This helps me to Allow the uncertainty to be there. But when I start reading about the catastrophes happening around the world, I increase anxiety by catastrophizing. That is where Investigation comes in. Am I reading new and useful information or am I reading information that I already know or that does not necessarily pertain to the US? I stop and ask myself, am I feeding myself information or am I feeding my anxiety?
I can Recognize when I feel the anxiety in my body of not know the future begins to grow. That is my mindfulness bell to get out of the rut of reading about the Coronavirus and to bring myself back to the present moment. If I obsess with reading about the pandemic, I get into a rut of playing movies in my head about all the horrible things that could happen. Instead of letting those made up movies play over and over in my head with the hope that I could control the ending, I am trying to just be aware of them. Then I can Nurture myself by reminding myself that they are not true and taking a couple of deep breaths to calm myself.
Begin by looking at where you are at on the anxiety continuum. If you are at either end, you are likely to be stuck. To get unstuck, you need to take small steps. If you take big steps, you are likely to feel overwhelmed, helpless and trapped. You can use RAIN to Recognize what you are feeling, Allow the external situation and your feelings about it to be what they are, Investigate what most needs attention and Nurture yourself with self-care.
May you be peaceful and at ease.