The term “stressed” is used to describe one way we may feel if there is too much on our plate, there are too many emotions involved, or any other circumstance that interferes with a peaceful existence. First Responders have emergency situations every day. Crisis situations are the norm and are both physically and emotionally demanding. In order to respond effectively to these crises, a natural process between our brains and bodies takes over.
The Brain and Body
Our brains instruct all the other processes of the body, both voluntary and involuntary. In an emergency, the brain automatically takes control. When the brain senses danger of any kind, it instructs the body to release the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline, the hormone which enables the “fight or flight” response. Both hormones are energizing and cause the brain to enter a hyper-alert state to effectively focus and deal with the situation.
Between the normal, natural physiological response, excellent training, and experience, the rescue is a success. But what about the leftover cortisol still in your system? Well, healthy stress relief activities, of course! Oh, too tired after the long shift? Too busy with the kids? Ok, so the stress hormones stay in your system. Now add the cortisol from the stressful weekend visiting the in-laws, finding out your wife is pregnant, again, or that your kid made the football team. Whether it’s good news or bad news, it can be stressful. The stress hormones build up until the symptoms of chronic stress are undeniable. Symptoms of chronic stress include sleep disturbances, headaches, acid reflux, gastrointestinal problems, heart palpitations, physical and emotional exhaustion, irritability, anger outbursts, avoidance behaviors, isolation, alcohol abuse, etc.
Researchers have learned more about the brain in the last fifteen years than in all of history. Not only does stress take its toll on the body, but stressful events have an impact on our brains as well. The brain processes the event as a memory of all the thoughts, images, sounds, smells, physical sensations, and emotions that occurred during the response to the crisis. Clinical studies support the theory that memories are stored as neurons in the brain, and that memories influence day to day behavior, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. In some cases, symptoms may meet criteria to be diagnosed as PTSD.
People who seek treatment want the best for themselves, and the best for their families. It is not the weak-minded who seek help. Courageous people who need to stay strong are the ones who come to the experts for help. I use the type of therapy that is shown to be the most effective for treating trauma known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This type of therapeutic intervention is backed by empirical studies and is endorsed by the Department of Defense, the Veteran’s Administration, and the American Psychological Association.