I wrote this in a reply to a forum request for advice on how to manage emotions. Specifically, how to manage intense emotions and prevent them from causing harm. I thought it might be useful so I copied it here.
I will offer some other tools that I use for emotional control in my life--although, I wouldn't use the word control because I think the word suggests that we can change our emotional states by sheer will power, and I don't view it that way. I call it emotional processing.
Here's a tool that saves my life on a weekly basis. It's an acronym called RAIN.
R is Recognize. This is the first step, and without it, I'm nowhere. I first need to recognize the I am in fact feeling something--anger, sadness, guilt, shame--and I'm in some reactive state because of it. This recognition takes practice, and it has been my experience that the longer I practice, the sooner I can get awareness that I've got some serious emotions running. If you've gotten this far, pat yourself on the back. Really. Awareness is key; there is no choice without awareness. If you are even attempting to use the RAIN process, you've basically already achieved this first step--yet it's still good to check off, because it reinforces the importance of being aware. It is usually in this phase that I will ask myself: what am i feeling right now? Is it anger? sadness? Guilt? Shame? Stopping to ask myself this question interrupts the momentum and drama that's happening in my head; naming it has a tremendous amount of power.
A is accept. We feel what we feel. I must accept that I'm angry or sad or whatever. The rule is: That which I resist, will persist. I may not want to be angry but wishful thinking won't change that fact. Acceptance of my emotional state keeps me on the path to processing through it. The question to ask myself here is: can I accept I am feeling this way? It becomes a personal challenge, and even if I can't accept my feelings--it's not always easy--it's alright, because I am practicing acceptance, simply by asking the question. Which is my goal. I'm after progress, not perfection. Sometimes if the answer is no--I cannot accept that I'm feeling sad right now--then I ask myself this: can I accept that I can't accept it? And I can always accept that. It sounds funny, but this is practicing acceptance.
I is investigate. This can be in a cognitive sense, like identifying the trigger for the emotion and its root causes. (I could likely write a tome expounding on this one sentence, but it really isn't necessary for this process). More importantly is the physical awareness. What's happening in my body? I bring my attention to what's physically going on--is my heart rate increased? Am I sweating? Is my stomach tight? I stop here, and sit for as long as I can and just bring my awareness to what it feels like. Even thirty seconds of this type of focused awareness can bring a dramatic shift in the energy of the emotion and the hold it has over me. This is simply called "feeling my feelings" and is integral to the process. Thinking about feelings is not feeling them, and ultimately, they don't do the processing trick nearly as well as just experiencing them directly.
N is non-identification. It is simply the understanding--I am not what I am feeling, and I am not what I am thinking. I am not an angry person--I am a person who exists in a body that is feeling angry at this particular moment. It plays into the idea--this shall pass. But it is more than simply that. It really is about shifting your identity, your sense of self. It shifts from the place of the ego (the world of thoughts and emotions) to a place beyond the ego--that which observes the rest. This leads to detachment, and ultimately, a greater ability to exercise free will. It's a little strange to grasp at first, but it is really a great channel towards freedom.
This all comes from eastern philosophy--it's got a lot of Buddhist concepts behind it. It works really, really well. Try it out sometime.
Also, a simpler tool--a cell phone. When I'm reeling in emotion, the best thing I can do is remove myself from the situation, do a RAIN and then I'll usually call someone I trust so I can vent all this stuff with them. The important part here, is not to get myself more stuck and worked up about the issue, but sort of let out some of its energy. For this reason I will usually use the RAIN process first. But if I'm worried I'm going to do something really harmful to myself or someone else--even with my words--I will skip the RAIN and go straight to the phone just to make sure I don't cause harm.
Today, I enjoy my feelings! Even the most uncomfortable of them serve a purpose. They teach me something about who I am, what I value, and what I am missing in my life. The longer I've practiced dealing with my feelings directly, the more I've grown to appreciate their place in my life.