When Archi, my rescue greyhound, arrived in my life, he only had one eye. To be honest, that’s why I chose him (if it hadn’t been him, there was a lovely chap with three legs who looked gorgeous!) I was told he had had an infection which they couldn’t cure so it had to be removed. I’ll never really know, but I believe he was probably in a fight with another dog; he’s very reactive to other dogs and we work very hard to keep him calm. I’ve noticed that some days are better than others, sometimes with no apparent reason. However, what I’ve come to understand is that on the ‘bad’ days, it’s likely that he has encountered many triggers that have heightened his awareness, so that incidents that he might otherwise be calm around, serve to just ‘break the camel’s back’, so to speak. ‘Trigger stacking’ is a common description for it.
It got me to thinking about my own reaction to ‘triggers’. I always think about stress as having a cumulative effect. All those reactions being stuffed down inside a dustbin and not dealt with until the bin becomes so full, that the lid won’t stay on anymore. Then, when the next ‘trigger’ comes along, the whole thing bursts open. And I think we’ve all been there when something apparently inconsequential brings us to tears unexpectedly.
There’s some science behind it – each time your body encounters a stressful situation, a bunch of hormones is released causing our bodies to get ready to run. Because we don’t usually have to run away from lions, we don’t use up all these hormones, so they accumulate in our body. (dogs get rid of this stress by shaking themselves.) This makes our heart beat faster, our breathing speed up and a blood pressure rise. If these reactions are not turned off successfully by the body, they stick around, leaving it constantly on alert. This can mean that we’re constantly looking for the next lion and the slightest thing can raise our hormone levels to the ‘red alert’ very quickly.
A constant state of red alert can make that dustbin overflow very easily, leaving us responding to situations inappropriately. So, the next time someone you know reacts in a surprising way to missing the train, forgetting the milk or to your comment that they could lighten up, you might stop and think that it’s not necessarily about that straw that’s just broken the camel’s back, but that it’s a cumulation of other events that you know nothing about!
My next blog will look at how we can take control of this and reduce its impact.