Those of you who know me or follow The Selfish Start Up Co. on Instagram will be well acquainted with Roo, my beautiful pooch – we joke that he’s half cockapoo, half teddy bear because he’s so damn soft & cuddly.
He’s been at the studio with me from day one, often chilling at the front during my classes or generally getting fussed over by everyone he meets. People constantly comment on his wonderfully friendly temperament & we couldn’t have asked for a better dog.
Until last weekend.
Across the Saturday & Sunday there were a couple of big family birthdays so Roo & I hit the road to go & visit everyone for a big birthday BBQ. Somehow the September sun held out for us all & it was a gorgeous day. Lots of family, friends, kids & other dogs. Roo is used to big crowds, kids, lots of people, loud noises etc so it didn’t even cross my mind that there might be an issue.
About halfway through the afternoon after his food had been put out, one of the other dogs approached his bowl. They had a little altercation in a ‘bugger off, this is my food’ dog kinda way, except that seemed to be the straw that broke the camels back. After that he turned into the little teddy of terror (that was the polite name...). You couldn’t approach him without being snapped at – he was making growling noises we’d never heard come from him before & he generally lost his shit at anyone that approached his corner.
This continued for the whole of the rest of the evening & to be honest was quite startling for me. Being with him all day every day we have an amazing bond & to see him flip out like this felt awful. By the following morning, he’d calmed down some & when we finally got home on Sunday evening he was back to his cuddly self (even if it did take a couple of days for me to get over it!).
A little bit shocked & alarmed, I got in touch on Monday with the fab trainers he’d been to puppy classes with & one of them got straight back to me to explain that it sounded like a case of ‘trigger stacking’. The more she explained what it was & in the time following as I dutifully Googled the topic more, the more it made sense. By the time I understood more of what had happened on Saturday, the less I felt frustrated at his sudden bout of aggression & the more guilty I felt.
At risk of turning into Dr Google & to keep this as brief as possible, trigger stacking occurs in dogs when stressful events occur in their life. On their own, these stresses are manageable for them, but piled one on top of the other, they become too much for them to handle & they hit breaking point, suddenly displaying behavioural changes that you would never normally see in them.
In hindsight, his reaction is absolutely no surprise at all to the circumstances & in fact made me realise that it’s the perfect metaphor to describe how The Selfish Start Up Co works.
Every cloud & all that…
If you’ve got children or have ever spent time with a niece or nephew, you’ve probably all experienced the overtired child on his birthday. Little Jonny was up at the crack of dawn that morning with sheer excitement. He’s dosed up on sugar through breakfast, lunch & dinner & missed his usual afternoon nap because he was too busy partying like the badass 4 year old that he now is.
In the afternoon, he desperately wants to get home but mummy & daddy are being so bloody boring, hanging out after his party talking to all the grown ups. Why can’t he go home NOW?! He’s so busy trying to drag them away that he pulls too hard, loses his grip on daddy’s hand & face plants the step. He just about holds his shit together but it’s close – at least now they’re finally leaving. He spends the next few hours going bat shit crazy running laps of the garden with his awesome new rocket & just is not ready to go to bed when he’s called. Eventually, mummy has to take the rocket off him to get him inside but as she goes to grab it, one of the wings snap off.
There’s a brief moment of quiet where time seems to stand still & no-one dares breathe…
Then Little Johnny erupts.
You’ve never heard screams like it & there’s no consoling him. He’s hit a threshold from which there is no return & nothing on God’s earth will console him. He just has to see this one out until eventually he wails himself to sleep. Odds are, he’ll be feeling a bit drained the next day & it might take a bit for him (as well as mum & dad…) to recover.
This isn’t uncommon. On their own, he would be capable of handling all of those circumstances individually. Spend the day piling them one on top of the other & something was always going to give.
Except sometimes it’s not the overtired child after a birthday party, it’s an overtired grown up who is in the midst of running a business.
To bore you with practicalities, when we’re exposed to a stressful situation, that nasty little hormone cortisol floods our system. Stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing – from a physiological point of view your body broadly reacts in the same way whether you’re faced with excitement or fear (those butterflies in your tummy don’t care whether they’re supposed to be excited or nervous).
Now, I called it nasty but that might be misleading too – it’s cortisol, along with adrenaline & norepinephrine that helps protect us too. These stress hormones force the fight, flight or freeze reaction to kick in which helps us kill that bear, run away from it as fast as we can or stand stock still & pray he doesn’t see us.
When a stressful experience occurs, these hormones flood our system. Then, when we know we’re safe, they begin to dissipate as we return to our normal happy bear-free state. Unfortunately, in situations of perceived & endured stress that both Roo & little Jonny experienced these hormones don’t have time to go back to their healthy levels. They build & build & build until we hit breaking point. Then we’re no use to anyone.
Whether in work or life, we’ve all experienced this. Except when it comes to our businesses we’re so bloody precious about ‘how much we have to do’ that we’re reluctant to face the fact that we might be getting closer & closer to that edge.
As I said before, our body doesn’t always distinguish between good & bad environments – stress is stress. Whether it’s the buzz you get from closing a massive sale or the crushing reality that you can’t actually pay your bills this month. Either way, you go into the same heightened sense of overdrive where your heart races, you get those butterflies in your stomach & you probably can’t sleep.
They’re just the short-term effects – long term, you might gain weight, suffer from sickness bugs & anxiety & feel constantly tired.
Think of what triggers you’ve had stacking up this year – good & bad? Are you able to diffuse them or do you find yourself getting more irritable, anxious & less able to cope as the year goes on? Add those triggers to the every day stresses of home life & you might just be a volcano waiting to erupt.
That’s why you need to learn to hit the reset button sometimes & let your body & your hormones find some sort of peace.
This doesn’t always mean you need to disappear on holiday. In all honesty, that might not always help the situation in the long run. Sure, you might sit on that beach, sipping your mojito & thinking ‘what cortisol?’, but if as soon as you get home you find yourself with twice as much work to catch up on, you’re going to go hurtling straight back towards the danger zone.
Worse still, you might know that’s inevitable & end up spending the holiday worrying pre-emptively.
Instead, think about what you can do to temper those stress levels in the most effective way. Take Roo for example, if I’d have whipped him straight out of the environment & tucked him away somewhere, sure he’d have felt good for a little while in the peace & quiet, but before long he’d end up getting a serious case of FOMO, itching to get back to where the fun stuff was happening.
Instead, the best solution would be to take him away from the madness for a little while, but instead of complete isolation, let him play with a few people at a time in a quieter space. He could chill out, regain his composure, bring those stress levels down but still get to have a party of his own at a pace that was more suited to him.
We’re no different. Instead of taking yourself away completely & worrying about what you’re missing or what will be waiting when you get back, take some time to find the peace & quiet that you need, but choose to work on the fun bits of your business instead.
No cortisol. No guilt.
Without realising it, Roo gave me the perfect way to explain why I created The Selfish Start Up Co in the first place – I don’t want to disappear on holiday & leave my business behind, I love working on it! But sometimes, that needs to be in a slightly more peaceful environment where I can build on the elements of it that I love to give my body (& mind!) the rest it needs to come back fighting.
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