Dealing Mindfully with Difficult Emotions Using RAINS.

May 23, 2019 by

By Teresa Miller, Susan Stone and John Schorling

We all have to deal with our own difficult emotions from time to time. There is a process for working mindfully with difficult emotions that was initially called RAIN. This stood for Recognizing the emotion, Allowing the emotion to be present, Investigating physical sensations associated with the emotion, and Non-identification with the emotion. However, because self-compassion is key to any mindful work with difficult emotions, we at the UVA Mindfulness Center use the acronym RAINS instead of RAIN, in which the “S” stands for Self-compassion.

Whenever a difficult emotion arises, we can transform our relationship to it by practicing with RAINS, a tool that incorporates mindfulness and compassion.

In formal mindfulness practice we keep our attention on the breath, unless some other experience is so strong that it pulls us away from our anchor. Then we can choose to turn our attention to that other experience. One kind of experience that can pull us away is strong physical sensation; another is strong emotion, which, like physical sensation, can simply arise spontaneously.

We want to allow emotions to exist as they arise and not get stuck in additional complications of judgment, evaluation, preferences, aversion, desires, clinging, resistance or other reactions. RAINS is not an easy practice because the inclination is to resist or avoid difficult emotions or to get lost in them. RAINS asks us to lean into the emotions mindfully and kindly. As we practice with it, it becomes easier. Over time, we don’t have to laboriously think of each letter in the acronym; they become more or less automatic.

Practicing with RAINS promotes greater clarity and calmness in the midst of emotional upset, which in turn enables us to respond in wiser and kinder ways that can bring greater joy into our lives.

The five components of RAINS are:

R—Recognize that we’re experiencing a difficult emotion

Recognizing that “This is (fear, anger, etc.).” Don’t try to avoid or ignore. Often we judge a difficult emotion as cowardly and try to manage bear up under it with a stiff upper lip. Or we’re so resistant that we don’t look at all; we change the subject. Instead, we can simply recognize what’s here.

A—Allow the difficult emotion to be present without judgment.

Allowing, letting the emotion(s) be present, knowing that in mindfulness practice any emotion is OK.  To the degree possible, allowing includes meeting the emotion with an attitude of kindness, friendliness, interest, curiosity.  Our resolve to “allow” an emotion can be supported with phrases whispered in the mind, “it’s like this,” “yes,” “this too.”


Leaning into the difficult emotion. We notice if we’re catastrophizing, building a negative story based on “what ifs,” things that haven’t happened and may never happen. We drop the storying and mindfully return to the present, noticing the physical sensations in the body.  We might even put our hand on the location in the body where the physical sensations are the strongest.


Remember that  we are not the difficult emotion.  We take a step back. The emotion doesn’t define us. We are more and other than it. All people experience difficult emotions.  Can we view it as the (fear, anger, anxiety, etc), not my (fear, anger, anxiety, etc). It is the emotion, not my emotion; the thought? not my thought. This is empowering.


Self-compassion can permeate all of RAINS as well as be cultivated separately. We can practice responding to ourselves as we would a friend, with warmth and caring. Perhaps with a hand on the heart, we might say one of these phrases to ourselves, “This is a moment of suffering; may I be kind to myself; may I give myself the care I need; may I hold myself with tenderness.”

RAINS is a powerful process that can be used any time that an emotion becomes prominent. This includes during formal mindfulness practice as well as any in other moments of our daily lives when difficult emotions are present.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings