Helping First Responders Overcome the Effects of Stress

Published in News on 5/10/2021

The ability of our first responders to handle stress and uncertainty is paramount to their success. Resilient responders are a priority recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tagged Under: Emergency Response, Worker Health

Ask any new first responder who participates in his first shooting call, a traumatic incident involving a child fighting for her life, a multi-vehicle accident, or other horrific event, and he is likely to tell you that during the event he experienced tunnel vision, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate.


Understanding why these physiological events occur can help first responders control them or effectively mitigate them.


When the human body is exposed to an immediate threat or traumatic incident, the sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing adrenaline into the bloodstream. The amygdala in the brain sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which controls involuntary activities such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and the dilation or constriction of key blood vessels. Under stress, the hypothalamus instructs the pituitary gland to release chemicals in the body such as cortisol. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol triggers a flood of glucose that provides an immediate energy source to the muscles. Cortisol inhibits insulin production so that glucose is not stored in the body but is instead available for immediate use. This is why a first responder's heart rate and energy level will accelerate.


On the surface, cortisol releases can help first responders by providing additional energy and an increased focus on the traumatic event. Over time, however, cortisol can have an adverse effect. For example, continuous releases of cortisol can result in weight gain, digestive problems, and cardiovascular disease. Each of these is commonly associated with health problems among first responders.


Listen to this Podcast Providing Support for First Responders during Stressful Times or continued reading the First Responders Overcoming Effects of Stress article to learn more about:

  • Mitigating the Physiological Effects of Stress
  • Auditory Exclusion Can Also Occur when First Responders Are under an Immediate Threat
  • Recognizing and Mitigating Tunnel Vision Is also Important



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