The events that you, as a firefighter, are exposed to can be very stressful. Sometimes these are big national tragedies and other times they are seemingly routine calls that just hit too close to home. Today I am going to begin a discussion about stressful calls and how they affect your body physically.
First you need to understand how your body responds to stress. Basically, the cascade of events that occurs in response to a stressor is equipping your body to run from a bear. That’s right – we’ve never evolved from that primal need to run from predators. Therefore, in any stressful situation, either mentally or physically, your body responds by giving you the energy you need to run (or fight).
The main way it does this is by releasing the hormone cortisol; you may have heard cortisol referred to as “the stress hormone.” The function of cortisol is to break down glycogen (our stored form of glucose) so that your blood glucose (”blood sugar”) rises. When your blood glucose rises, your muscles then use that as energy to get away from the predator.
You can probably see what the main problem is here. Most of the time when a stressful event occurs, you are not running from anything! So your body doesn’t need that glucose/energy. Next week I’m going to talk about what happens to that unused glucose that was just dumped into the bloodstream. Today I want to explain that elevated stress levels are very harmful to your body because of the effects of cortisol. While your body is only trying to help you out, it’s action of constantly secreting cortisol results in suppressed immune function and breakdown of muscle tissue. Obesity also results in greater secretion of cortisol.
The main way to avoid high cortisol secretion is to try and reduce the stress in your life. While you may not have much control over that at work, you can mitigate the stress response by exercising; people who consistently exercise experience lower cortisol secretion during stressful events.
If you’ve ever been in denial about the physical effects that stress has on your body, I understand, I use to dismiss it too. But the research shows us that mental stress wreaks havoc on the body physically. While there’s hundreds more reasons to exercise regularly, this may be the biggest reason to exercise your ability – and your right – to remove stressors from your life.
Have you ever taken action to remove stressors in your life? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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