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  • Dr. Liz Bales

Let's Talk About It

It's a remarkable time in our lives. We are all scrambling to keep our loved ones, co-workers and ourselves safe. We are adjusting to a new normal, but it seems we need to make new adjustments every day. Our dogs and cats are trying to acclimate to our new schedules and stress levels. 

All of this is a lot to manage. It seems to have shortened our collective fuse. 

My dear friend, and sometimes co-host, taught me the concept of “stress/trigger stacking.”  I learn a lot from Tabitha. Here’s what she explained to me. 

Forgive me if I over simplify. 

Every person, and animal has a stress threshold. Under the threshold, we can interact, work, and exist as our best selves. Then, stresses enter our lives and build on one another like stress Tetris, climbing ever closer to our threshold. It just takes that “one more thing” to put us over threshold. Once we are over threshold, we can no longer manage and we lash out or direct the feelings inwards with self destructive behavior. 

For example, imagine you have a job interview at 9:00am and your overly chatty friend calls you at 8:55. Under normal circumstances, you let the call go to voice mail or pick up and tell him you can’t talk and will call him back later.  No big deal, right?

Now imagine that you set your alarm for 6:30am and it didn’t go off. You woke up at 7:05 and are already behind the eight ball. Then you cut yourself shaving.  And you are out of bandaids. You don’t have time for breakfast now, so you just get a cup of coffee and jump in the car so you won’t be late. The person in front of you stops short. You jam your brakes and spill coffee on your pants. You grab the last napkin in your car and try to get the stain out, unsuccessfully. You can’t find a parking space and finally are forced to park illegally at 8:52. You grab your things and take off at a jog to get to your interview on time. Just as you get to the door, your phone rings. It’s your overly chatty friend. Without thinking, you reflexively answer the phone and gruffly shout “I can’t talk right now!” And hang up. 

Your poor chatty friend has no idea why you are so mad at him. 

Your otherwise minor stresses stacked up and put you over threshold. That “one more thing” that is normally no big deal pushes you over the edge. It is often a complete mystery to the “one last thing” offender why you are so angry with them. Many times, it’s a mystery to you too. 

Each of us, human and animal, has a different threshold. But, collectively, the circumstances of our COVID19 world have stacked our stresses before we even get out of bed in the morning. Many of us are close to threshold all of the time. That “one last thing” is around every corner. 

Thank you, Tabitha. You helped me to understand this when it is happening inside of me, and helped me to have perspective when I commit the “one last thing” crime against some one that I care about. 

When COVID19 was descending upon us, I needed positivity, so I decided to use this time to learn more about cats and dogs, and to share that with whomever was interested.  So many amazing experts were eager to do the same, and join me on Facebook Live to share their knowledge. I called my show “The American Animal: Pets, People, Science, Kindness.” 

I planned to talk about all of those things. What I didn’t plan for was that the audience, the guests and even me would be at threshold unexpectedly and that my good intention would be the “one more thing.”

For now, I’m going to keep focusing on learning and sharing. I hope you will join me and my amazing guests. We all come from different walks of life and different view points. This is an asset, not a liability. Differences give me a chance to grow and learn. I like differences. I hope you learn something useful and continue to join me. I want to learn from you too. So, reach out and share your thoughts with me. And, it’s ok to be at threshold, to disagree, to be angry and even to cry. 

People, pets, science and kindness will all get through this together. So, let’s talk about it. 

PS. My husband reminds me to keep wipes in my car, so all of this can be avoided. 

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