Worry is one of those things we all face, often on a regular basis. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, just over 18* of American adults experience an anxiety disorder in a given year. It arises in many forms. We worry about work, what other people are thinking, or our families or loved ones. Sometimes the worry, anxiety, and fear can consume us and we’re unable to be present for what we need to be doing. You’re not alone in this experience. Here are a few practices and methods we’ve found for letting go of worry and fear in our lives.
The RAIN Method is something we use for many things in our lives, as it can be applied almost anywhere. RAIN is an acronym and stands for Recognize, Allow (or Accept), Investigate, and Non-Identification. It’s a pretty clear four-step process to help us approach difficult experiences like anxiety, agitation, fear, or sadness. We can also of course use it with experiences like joy, love, and contentment! Coming from the mindfulness-based psychology world, RAIN can really help us address fear and worry in our lives with care and wisdom. Mindfulness can help anxiety greatly, and this is a pretty simple introductory practice.
The first step is to notice or recognize what we are experiencing. If you’re in a moment of worry, simply say to yourself, “Oh look, I am in a moment of worry.” We cannot address an issue if we don’t recognize it’s there! The next step is to accept or allow the experience. We so often tighten around something and resist it. We wish the worry wasn’t present or that we felt differently. This is a step of action. Really take a moment to accept that this is how you are feeling. I often say to myself, “Even though it’s not how I want to feel, I accept that his is how I feel right now.” It’s okay to recognize we don’t like it, but we have to accept that it’s there!
Next, investigate it! You don’t want to overwhelm yourself too much with the worry, but see if you can really look at the experience with some curiosity. What does it feel like to be in a moment of worry? Are you worrying about something in particular? Can you feel anxiety in your body, breathing, or heart rate? Ask yourself what it actually feels like to worry. We get caught in stories or what we think worry looks/feels like, but try investigating the experience with an open mind.
Finally, we have the step of non-identification. This is important and can be difficult. When we experience worry or fear, we often get completely wrapped up in it. This final step to this method is noticing that we are not our mind or emotions. Pause for a moment to reflect on this. Your emotions and thoughts are constantly changing. Yes, you may have patterns of thoughts or feeling, but the thoughts and emotional experiences come and go. You are composed of a mind, body, and awareness below your thoughts and emotions. When we recognize that we’re not this experience, we can rest in it without so much reactivity!
Turning toward self compassion in moments of worrying about the future can help us greatly. We often fall into the habit of judging ourselves harshly and beating ourselves up in these moments. Instead, try to respond with some care for yourself. The RAIN practice is one way to really practice compassion, as we’re training ourselves to tune into difficult experiences with care.
The word compassion comes from Latin roots and means “to suffer with.” Although a compassionate act may come in many different forms, it really is just the act of being with pain and suffering. I like to add that it has a quality of caring presence. We can show up and be present for our difficulties with care. If a young child was experiencing some pain, would you beat them down the same way you beat yourself down? Or would you respond with some care?
Next time you find yourself worrying, try this practice… Pause and put your hand somewhere soothing. It may be over the heart (releases oxytocin!), on the shoulder, or in your other hand. Say to yourself, “This is a moment of worry.” This is somewhat like the R in RAIN. Next, say to yourself, “Worry happens sometimes.” This is just a recognition that we’re all subject to experiencing worry in moments. Finally, offer yourself a phrase of self-compassion such as, “I care about this feeling.”
The beautiful part about self-compassion practice is that we learn to decrease reactivity around experience. Rather than trying to rid ourselves forever of worry, we learn to not react so strongly. As we learn to be more responsive than reactive, the worry no longer controls us and our days.
Perhaps you have hectic days that are full. Maybe you’re relatively free and don’t have a lot to do. Either way, it can help to really schedule out some time to relax and allow the mind/body to settle. You don’t need to take a monthlong vacation to the other side of the world to find relaxation. You can find it in your daily life.
What helps you settle? For some, it’s reading a book at the end of a day. Maybe it’s finding a meditation class, taking a walk (as exercise greatly effects mental health), listening to music, or talking to a loved one. Personally, I use a schedule as I work from home, and stick to it pretty closely. I actually schedule things in like meditation, phone calls to family, and time to eat. Scheduling time out to do these things can encourage us to take a break and let the mind and body settle a bit. Otherwise, we’re stuck in the go, go, go of the modern world!
Deep breathing is a great way to go. There are so many different breathing exercises, but there’s one that specifically we’ve found to be helpful in letting go of worry and fear when it arises. This breathing exercise is one that helps stimulate the vagus nerve, turning on the parasympathetic nervous system and deactivating the sympathetic nervous system. This turns down the fight or flight response and decreases the stress hormone cortisol in your body. All you need is your breath and the ability to count!
Start by breathing in for a count of two, and exhaling for a count of four. Then, breathe in for a count of three and out for a count of five. Next, breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of six. You can continue moving up to longer inhales and exhales, or stick with wherever you feel comfortable. As you make your exhales continually longer than your inhales, the mind and body will relax. You can do this for 30 seconds, a few minutes, or however long it feels right for!
We were super skeptical of essential oils when we first learned of them. However, we’ve grown to really love using them and find them helpful. We have an oil we use for almost everything, but there are several that can help greatly with feelings of worry. These are some oils that are traditionally used to help with worry, but you may find different essential oils that work well for you! Some of these oils may be used on the skin, diffused into the air, or taken orally. Please check with an expert before using them!
Lavender is a classic oil used for soothing and calming. From spas and yoga studios to skin care products and candles, lavender is popular. Studies show that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, and promote relaxation. It’s one of the few essential oils that actually has scientific studies to back up the claims of its uses, which can help give you some faith in its ability to help you!
Lemon is not an oil that is traditionally used for relaxation or easing worry. Rather, lemon oil is more uplifting. Although it may seem like we want to calm down when we’re experiencing worry, the uplift provided by lemon oil can help us snap out of the worry more quickly. As the lemon oil may help elevate our mood, we can detach from the worry with more ease and less additional stress.
Known colloquially as lemon balm, melissa is a bit like a more relaxing lemon oil. Melissa can help ease tension, promote restful sleep, and increase overall wellbeing. It’s one of my go-to oils, especially in times of increased stress and worry!
These are just a few ways to help you in your practice of letting go of worry. We hope one or some of them are useful to you, and encourage you to practice patient compassion with yourself!
About the Author
This post was written by one of our staff writers at Alternative Relief!