The R.A.I.N. Method - coping strategy for emotional dysregulation

The R.A.I.N. method is a simple and effective way to get your emotions in check.

Overwhelming emotions all at the same time

We wrote this because we prefer breakdowns of coping strategies over emotional breakdowns. You're reading this because you do, too.

Growing up, I was taught that moving through the world as if nothing fazed me was a true sign of strength. I learned to do this exceptionally well at first, but my negative thoughts would inevitably creep up on me and eventually consume me. Rather than address these struggles, I suppressed them; hoped they’d eventually fade away. But the older I became, the harder it was to pretend I wasn’t overwhelmed by my inner dialogue. So I went to therapy for help.

For many people, the concept of “feeling our emotions'' is already a hard one to accept and practice. And for those with ADHD (and/or other neurodivergencies) this can be compounded with things like Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). Not everyone with ADHD experiences RSD to the full extent — but for those that do, the emotional (and sometimes physical) pain can be debilitating. This won’t improve overnight, but with a bit of advice and determination, we can gain more control over our emotional responses.

Let's explore some valuable insights and strategies for emotional regulation that are frequently discussed in therapy.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of heightening one’s awareness of the present moment — surroundings, stimuli, and, most importantly, the emotions or thoughts that arise in that moment.

The catch? You have to do it without judging yourself.

Over time, mindfulness teaches us to recognize our negative or unhelpful emotions. And eventually, it helps us transition from dwelling in the past to projecting into the future. Usually, mindfulness can be achieved through meditation, but it can also be practiced through other means, such as the R.A.I.N. method.

Buddha sculpture

P.S. Though its origins are in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism, there’s no religious component that’s required of you in order to fully benefit from mindful practices; it’s a grounding technique that anyone can try.

The R.A.I.N method

What is the R.A.I.N. method and what is it used for?

The R.A.I.N. method is a framework that we can turn to when we experience difficult emotions. In the times where we’d normally surrender to our overwhelming anger or anxiety, the R.A.I.N. method serves as a guide to help us navigate our emotions while teaching us about ourselves in the process.

The R.A.I.N. acronym stands for:

  • Recognize
  • Allow
  • Investigate
  • Nurture ("Non-identification" is commonly used as well)

Can ADHDers use the R.A.I.N. method?

People with ADHD commonly struggle with emotional dysregulation, which often manifests as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, anger issues and angry outbursts, and extreme anxiety. So - of course people with ADHD can use this method! They may find it extremely helpful for better understanding their emotions and how to effectively regulate them. In fact, researchers have explored the effects of mindful practices on people with ADHD, and their conclusions support the idea that mindful practices can ease emotional dysregulation in neurodiverse brains.

So, we know what each letter stands for and that this method can be useful for those of us with ADHD, but we still have one unanswered question: What actions are we supposed to take for the four R.A.I.N. steps and why?

Breaking down R.A.I.N. to build up Y.O.U.

Review our breakdown of each of the four steps of R.A.I.N. to see if this strategy could be a right fit for you.

R - Recognize

Recognize what’s happening around you and take note of your emotional response. The point of this step is to make you consciously aware of the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors affecting you — without judgment.

💡 Pro-Tip! An emotion wheel could be an excellent tool to help with naming your emotions. (Choosing a word for the way you feel can be challenging!)

Example: I’m worried my friend dislikes me after I made a joke that hurt their feelings. Using my emotion wheel, I recognize that I’m afraid they may abandon me after this. But I’m also angry and annoyed that they didn’t understand that it was a joke in the first place.

A - Allow

Allow the thought or emotion to simply exist. Don’t push it away. Don’t change it. Don’t judge it.

Just let it exist.

You don’t have to agree with your internal monologue; just hold a safe space for them to pass through. This will eventually become second nature, and you may notice an increase in energy. Why? Because you’re no longer draining your mental energy by fielding every single emotional thought that passes through your mind.

⚠️ Heads up! This step may be difficult for those who have conditioned themselves to compartmentalize their emotions. It was also difficult for myself, as I’ve spent my whole life deflecting, changing, and judging my own emotions.

Example: Instead of telling myself how I should be feeling about this situation, I’ll just let these emotions run their course without blocking or judging them. Though they are uncomfortable, they are present and valid. 

I - Investigate

Let’s dig a little deeper now that we’ve had time to sit with our thoughts and emotions. Even though they may seem straightforward at first, exploring them with intention can help to uncover their roots. Ask yourself these investigative questions:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Is there an underlying truth or unresolved problem that my emotions are guiding me to?
  • What else might be influencing me to feel this way?

From here, you can choose to take things a step further by asking yourself what your needs are at that moment.

💡 Pro-Tip! You don’t have to use the above questions word-for-word. What’s important is the purpose of the questions: to explore the subconscious layers of your emotions.

Example: I probably feel like my friend is mad at me because they’ve been distant lately. But if I’m being honest with myself, they’ve never given me any reason to suspect they’d abandon me. Perhaps this has more to do with my insecurities… 

N - Non-identification/Nurture

You’ve identified and explored your unhelpful thoughts and difficult emotions. Great work! 

Mindfulness 101: the R.A.I.N method. Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture.

The final step?

Separate them from YOU — your sense of self, your identity, and your self-worth. These feelings and emotions may all feel as real as you, but they are not you. And they’re certainly not the only aspect of you that matters.

⚠️ Heads up! This step takes the longest to master. Changing the way we view ourselves is no easy task. If it were, everyone would practice and encourage self-love. But the good news is that it’s totally possible to separate your feelings from you, reach the point of self-acceptance, and live your best life.

Example: I feel afraid, but I’m still courageous. I feel insecure, but I’m still loved. I feel sad, but I can still appreciate others’ happiness.

Final thoughts 

Mindfulness sign by a window

The next time you feel like you’re on the verge of a mental breakdown, try to remember our breakdown of the R.A.I.N. method. Take it from someone who initially scoffed at the idea of “mindful practices”: The R.A.I.N. method is a game-changer. The more I practice, the easier it becomes to pinpoint my emotions. There is always room for improvement, but the troubling thoughts and emotions that used to be deafening? They’re merely whispers these days.

However, if you try it out and the R.A.I.N. method doesn’t work for you, don’t panic. It’s just one of the many tools we have at our fingertips, and its usefulness may depend on your situation and environment. But — the simple fact that you’re here at the end of this article tells me that you’re already on your way to finding what will work for you. No matter what method you use to practice mindfulness, they all come with a learning curve. Many of us haven’t conditioned ourselves to reflect on our mind and what goes on in there, so it’s normal for the process to feel uncomfortable at first.

But — that discomfort you’re feeling?

It means you’re growing.

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