Stress…It’s in the Eye of the Beholder

Stress is defined as “A specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism causing physical, mental or emotional strain or tension.”

Stress manifests very differently in every person, depending on their coping techniques, life experience and quantity of stressful stimuli present in their daily lives. Personally I find rigid schedules and repetitive tasks stressful. I much prefer to have something interesting and unpredictable happening in my life every day. However, I know that there are millions of people who would find my unstructured, impulsive lifestyle stressful and difficult to manage, as they take comfort in knowing what each day brings in advance.

How is it possible that one situation can be so comfortable and welcoming to one person and actually induce feelings of panic and anxiety in another? Let me give you an example to illustrate my confusion; I love my children, I love my home and I am rarely sorry about my choice to be a stay at home mother to my two delightful offspring for the last 7 years. However, despite my passion for my family, I often find myself overcome with a desire to stick a fork in my ear just to avoid hearing any more whining, bickering, complaining, banging, and shouting. It’s true, I often feel like my children have laid wagers on who will actually cause Mommy’s head to explode! So far the have merely achieved the throbbing veins in my forehead and neck, but they are driven youngsters, I have no doubt their success is inevitable.

So you can imagine my surprise the other day when my best friend called me from work to let me know that she was coming over to spend the night. This of course is my single friend who hasn’t had the privilege of procreating as of yet and therefore finds my children endearing and enjoyable. Anyways, she called to tell me that she had been having a terrible day at work, found herself stressed and emotionally drained and was hoping to come for an overnight visit.

I am always very happy to have her visit, as she is as close to a sister as I can get other than my wonderful sister in law. But I found it incredibly interesting that after a day full of “stressful stimuli”, my friend’s instinct was to come to my little world and spend some time “relaxing. Seriously? How could spending 24 hours with children chasing the dog through the house trying to ride him like bull, and arguing over who ate their noodles the fastest, possibly be relaxing for anyone? Is it possible that anyone could find the blaring cartoons, slamming doors and giggling games of hide and seek to be a blissful getaway from the everyday?

Well the answer according to my friend is a resounding yes, despite all the craziness, she finds our home comforting. Apparently, the fact that my kids adore her and come running when she enters the house, and the fact that she fits right into our family is enough to help her get past the extreme disquiet of our home. Huh.

So I guess the question of how situations can cause both comfort AND anxiety in different people is best answered by looking at the individual perspective. I think that our level of stress is lowered the more we are loved, and the more our emotional needs are met. That must be why at night when my kids are snuggled up next to me and we are reading a book, or when I hear the little voice spontaneously say “Mommy, I LOVE you” or when my son sees me at school and his face lights up, I don’t feel stress. Instead, I take a deep relaxing sigh and put down the fork, at least until the next rainy day when the bickering starts again.

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