What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? Welp, they definitely are connected, but there’s an important distinction. Stress is caused by outside circumstances, such as a work deadline, getting your kids to hobbies on time or a disagreement with your partner. Anxiety, however, is your RESPONSE to the stressor. To observe a stressor without creating an anxiety provoking narrative, and accept it as is, can be within your control with practice. Let’s say I spilled onion soup in my car. To think that now my car will smell like onion FOREVER and my friends will think I smell like old onions (lol what?) and never speak to me again and Ahh! Yep, that’s a reaction to the stressor that is a surefire way to spark anxiety. Many of us aren’t taught to reframe our thoughts, observe without interpreting, and ground ourselves (posts on grounding to come). I’ve already discussed a quick reframe tool (in previous posts) to adjust unhelpful thoughts to the framework of gratitude, but you can also observe and accept what is happening and forgo the reframe. I see the spilled soup in my car, I grab a rag and some cleaner, and that’s it! I know this is easier said than done, but acceptance and observation without creating a narrative takes practice, just like exercising, eating healthy, or doing any new skill before it becomes second nature.
To get in the groove of observing without creating a narrative notice your body sensations, tap into your five senses and be in the moment. Observe the situation without using words in your mind. These are typical DBT and mindfulness tactics (that I’m bringing to you here [solo clap 👏😆]). Practice mindful observation next time you go into another room or outside. Look around and notice without creating a narrative about what it all means. The more you practice this the easier it will be to observe stressful situations as they are. Look at a flower, ants walking, or people’s facial expressions and notice details. If your mind begins a narrative, gently notice the narrative, take a deep breath, and focus your attention back to what you are observing (and repeat)!