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May 26, 2020

4 Steps to Dealing with Difficult Feelings in the middle of a Pandemic.

Rich Soul/Unsplash
These are difficult times, and there is a lot of fear in the world.

People are fearful for their health and for the health of those they love. Many are fearful of the economic impact brought about by COVID-19. Compassion combined with mindful living can go a long way to soothing the fears we feel and helping us understand that we do not have to let our fears define us.

Because, let’s face it: we don’t always get what we need and want in life. Sometimes we get what we don’t want and really don’t need.

When something like this happens, we experience a kind of reality shock, where what we desire and what’s reality get ripped apart. That’s when our fear, frustration, despair, and resentment come bubbling up to the surface.

When we see our needs or values ​​threatened, our brains automatically activate the physical stress system to prepare us to fight the perceived danger, or save ourselves by running away.

To make matters worse, when our bodies kick into survival mode, they simultaneously block access to the complex, intelligent areas of our brains. As a result, our brains switch to autopilot, which makes it hard to think clearly and make decisions based on the values, needs, and goals that usually guide us.

Depending on how hard that reality shock hits us, the irritation, anger, fear, or despair we feel can be overwhelming. Quite often, in moments like these it’s easy to have the impression that we are the feeling rather than just experiencing it.

In other words, instead of simply noticing that a storm is raging, we feel like we are the storm itself. Getting caught up in our own inner drama makes it hard to think and feel clearly.

Today, I’d like to share a simple “mindful living” tool to help you deal with those difficult feelings.

Four steps to fearless living

R.A.I.N is a proven, systematic set of steps for living mindfully, or finding your way back to a mindful place in your life. It’s a gentle process that guides you in developing a deep understanding of what’s going on inside.

R—Recognize

The first step in this process is to stop, pause, and identify what’s going on inside of you. Ask yourself:

>> What emotions am I feeling right now?
>> How are these emotions making themselves known in my body?
>> What impulses are they bringing up in me?
>> Do I want to run or attack?
>> What thoughts are behind these emotions, or being generated by them?

A—Accept

This step is all about giving yourself permission to acknowledge that whatever the situation, it is what it is.

You do not have to agree with it or endorse someone else’s behavior. The focus here is on accepting your own thoughts, feelings, and body sensations in this moment.

The more mindful you are about what’s going on inside, the easier it is to look at difficult thoughts and feelings without letting them steamroll over you.

Step outside the situation and do your best to be a neutral observer. Ask yourself:

>> Can I leave it as it is for right now?
>> How does that make me feel?

Accepting something for what it is (and not more than it is) can leave you feeling relieved, like a burden has been lifted. And, as it lifts, it becomes easier to separate yourself from those strong emotions.

That said, it’s not unusual to feel resistance to acceptance. If resistance shows up, don’t fight it. Choose to accept that resistance and move on to the next step.

I—Investigate with kindness

Often, the first two steps of this process are all that’s needed. Sometimes, though, the emotions you’re feeling are more complex: your partner leaves after years of marriage, you’re unexpectedly forced into bankruptcy, someone close to you dies unexpectedly, your entire world is upended by a pandemic.

When situations like these happen, the emotions are intense, long-lasting, and they’re often triggered over and over again.

This is where going deeper is so important. But it takes courage to face the pain.

Ask yourself:

>> Is what I’m thinking really true?
>> Where and how am I feeling this in my body?
>> What is this feeling trying to tell me?
>> How would things be different without these thoughts?

In difficult situations, thoughts can seem to take on an erratic life of their own. By letting them take over, you run the risk of falling into mental judgement and rationalizations that only complicate the issue.

To gain useful insights, you need to tap into what’s going on inside. Stressful thoughts and feelings can only be resolved by connecting with the hurt you feel.

Within the R.A.I.N process, investigating with kindness means showing yourself the same compassion, care, and love you’d show a friend in a similar situation. Compassion, care, and love are all key elements of mindful living.

N—Natural awareness

The first three steps of the R.A.I.N process support you in consciously and deliberately looking at your thoughts and emotions in the context of the present moment.

The last step, natural awareness, cannot be experienced on demand. It is a quality that flows from the first three steps: recognize, accept, investigate.

Natural awareness is a feeling of inner freedom and peace. It means letting go of the stories about how you, other people, or circumstances are or “have to be.” This is when you are free to act as the person you want to be as opposed to giving into the fears trying to constrain you.

Practice makes permanent

I’d love to tell you that all you need to do is read this article to find inner peace and freedom, but that just isn’t realistic.

As with everything, practice makes permanent here, too. Mindful living is a process and difficult situations are often the best training ground for getting there.

This may help you along the way: start small.

When you first go through the R.A.I.N steps, start with difficult thoughts and feelings on the lower end of the “challenge” scale. As you confront the smaller challenging situations and emotions in your life, each one will strengthen your ability to deal with the more complex emotions and fears you’re feeling in a mindful and healing way.

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