Triggers … What sets you off?

This week I’ve been musing about triggers, mostly because I’ve been acutely aware of my own.

And I don’t mean the Roy Rogers kind of trigger (horse or gun). No, I’m talking about the kind we all experience in our own way — the ones that jump start an unpleasant and uncontrollable reaction to an outside stimuli … that is until we have become aware of, understood, and come to terms with the trigger’s origins.

On this intense journey of self-awareness I’ve been travelling the past while I’ve bumped up against many of my triggers. While this hasn’t necessarily been a pleasant experience it has, nevertheless, afforded an opportunity to get to the bottom of some negative behavioural patterns in my life. It has also allowed me an opportunity to learn how to recognize the triggers and pre-empt them to promote a more positive way of being.

My saving grace through all of this learning has been my loving partner, Lloyd, and an amazing support team (psychotherapist, hormone therapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, naturopath, riding coach, music coach, and last, but certainly not least, equine therapist). When I resolved, 12 years ago, to divest myself of a lifetime of unwanted emotional baggage little did I know just what that meant and how much help I would need.

Through it all I’ve been learning to step into a new way of being — an intense and exhausting exercise that’s well worth the price.

This year has offered a stark lesson on cause and effect, stemming from looking in the eye a life time lived with undiagnosed PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Pushing through life in survival mode finally came to stop when mid-life hormone changes offered a sharp reality check. One day just over two years ago, while riding Bear, I was struck with explicable and unnerving fluttering sensations in my chest and throat. Near panic attacks while astride a 1,200 lb bundle of nervous energy is a dangerous, and debilitating, thing. Something had to be done or I was heading for a serious fall, in more ways than one. Thankfully before this revelation I had learned to pay attention to wake-up calls which, to my way of thinking at least, are simply giant triggers signalling a time for major personal change.

Horses are wonderful teachers when it comes to learning about, and understanding, triggers.

Since horses are, as respected Canadian natural horsemanship trainer Chris Irwin notes, “victims waiting to happen,” they are easily triggered by unexpected exterior stimuli.

For instance, when Bear was younger the sight of a white plastic bag flapping in the breeze would be enough to send him into orbit. If I was riding him at the time the offending object came into view I was treated, at best, to a spooky side pass as he gave it the hairy eyeball. At worst, an irrational bolt at warp speed across the arena or an almighty buck would trigger my own panic button and might land me in the dirt. Unless you’re a rodeo rider or have a death wish this type of in-the-saddle experience is usually not recommended and best avoided.

Bear’s brain farts have taught me, however, to be vigilant when it comes to recognizing what is, in his mind, imminent “danger.” This way I can pre-empt his need to have such an explosive reaction in the first place.

In effect, my powers of observation must become even greater than his own. I must remain at least one step ahead at all times and recognize “danger” before he does. I must perceive like a horse and respond as an aware human being.

Distracting him from whatever might offend is as easy as directing his mind and body into a different movement or exercise that keeps him in the moment with me. Doing this gives him a reason to trust I will keep him from harm’s way which, besides a constant supply of food and a safe place to sleep, is all a horse really wants anyway. Horses will do pretty much anything for people they trust.

But he needs help to learn a new way of being around flapping white plastic objects. Left to his own devices he might terrorized by them for the rest of his life.

I am his help.

As Bear has matured and I have been consistent in his training his mind has settled and his reactions to unexpected stimuli have become less severe. Nevertheless, as his trainer (and mom) I need to stay one step ahead at all times to ensure his happy mind and relaxed state.

Which makes my own situation all the more interesting.

The very state of being I have been working to instil in my horse is the state of being I’m working to instil in my self. With the help of my “trainers” I am reconditioning my own way of being and to do this I must address my triggers.

I’m learning to understand what is to me now a very obvious mind/body/emotion connection. Lately my reactions to certain people and situations have been incredibly visceral to the point, at times, of feeling totally and inexplicably overwhelmed such that my body shuts down and all I can do is rest and recover. It has been my challenge, again with help, to understand the origin of what triggers these unpleasant reactions and then find a constructive way to manage them.

What I’ve learned is that if we don’t take the time and make the effort to understand why we react irrationally to certain stimuli, this stimuli will continue to trigger reactions and manipulate us for the rest of our lives. From my experience these emotional/mental outbursts produce their own debilitating physical symptoms that further torment, and it just becomes a vicious cycle until we stand up and take action to change.

I am no expert on mental health, or medicine, but I am becoming an expert on addressing my own triggers. I also know that I’m not the only person in the world who experiences seemingly irrational reactions to outside stimuli. Far from it. We hear and read of people every day in our own circles and in the world-at-large whose irrational and frequently violent actions are triggered by seemingly irrational impulses. These actions invariably hurt others. And we on the outside looking in ask “I wonder what set them off?”

I would like to suggest that if we all asked this question honestly of ourselves, sought the help we needed to answer it and changed our lives accordingly, we could possibly live more harmoniously and the peace for which we are all seeking might be found.

Sadly, fear of the unknown will prevent most people from stepping into the dark abyss of the soul to seek the source of their angst. For me, not stepping in was a guarantee of a life lived in continuous fear. And that, dear reader, is no life for me.

This subject is open to debate. Please feel free to comment.

Nurture what you love … that includes you!

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012 

4 thoughts on “Triggers … What sets you off?

  1. I honestly believe our entire life is or at least should be a work in progress. Mind, body and soul … there is always something to improve on daily and if we don’t try to do too much at once the little changes can happen and stick, because that is the secret … not changing temporarily but actually getting the changes to be a normal part of our life and not just a phase. I love how you have opened up to us and am certain that is a wonderful change for the better in your life. Thank you for the wonderful post. Tom

  2. Wow. How brave you are to be riding a horse! And a beautiful one at that. I am recovering from panic disorder of 5+ years, finally learning to recognize and deal with some of my own triggers, even though ‘triggers’ isn’t really the right word here – anything could set off a panic attack if I were in the wrong frame of mind, the slippery slope I call it. At first I avoided all the things I thought were triggers for my attacks, but gradually I introduced these things back into my life, realizing that they were irrational and if I lived in fear I would be letting the Panic win. It seems we have that in common. I’ve learned that while you can’t control what happens around you, you can control the way you react to it. I think I have a lot more reading of your blog to do! GREAT pictures. I’ve always wanted to have a connection with a horse, maybe someday…Thanks for sharing, Horse Mom. Aren’t animals amazing in what they teach us about ourselves?

    • Hi Anna! … I commiserate. There is not much worse than living with the constant threat of a panic attack. I know exactly what you’re experiencing. It’s why I had to seek help. By doing that I discovered that in my case there was a physiological connection to the panic … adrenal fatigue (complicated by menopause 😦 ) plays havoc with hormones. So, I wonder if this, or something similar, might be so in your case too if the onset of your panic has occurred in mid life.

      Since being diagnosed and affecting changes in my life to help me address this debilitating way of being I have found some relief. That’s not to say I’m going to put myself in a position where my panic can be triggered, but I am at least more aware and can accommodate life accordingly. The most important thing for me to know now is that I an sit on my horse and deal with whatever comes instead of worrying about it. It’s made us both happier.

      If you’re at all curious about adrenal fatigue (symptoms include absolute exhaustion, inexplicable weight gain around the middle, anxiety, to name a few) I would recommend you check out the book “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Syndrome” by Dr. James Wilson ( It’s a really enlightening read and includes a check list of symptoms. In this book Wilson explains how prevalent this condition is in our society because of the stress we live under, but how it is also under-diagnosed because most doctors are not educated about it.

      My diagnosis came a year and a half ago while working with my naturopath and hormone specialist, and since being on the path to healing my way of being has very much improved. I’ve had to de-stress and modify my lifestyle considerably, i.e. I don’t try to squeeze five major activities into a 24-hour period anymore ;-). I prioritize; eat less; am kinder to myself; enjoy my blessings more whole-heartedly and am grateful for every moment I feel whole. It’s all been worth it.

      Living in a state of panic is debilitating to say the least. I hope you find a way to manage your symptoms and identify your triggers soon so you can get on with living a healthy, happy and creative life with your floral design.

      Be well,

      Dorothy 🙂

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