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HEALTH FOR HEROES     Strengthening Each Link In The Chain

Stress

Stress

Stress is a normal physical and psychological response to stimuli that threatens us or upsets our normal state of equilibrium or homeostasis. When working properly, the body’s stress response helps us to maintain focused, energized and aware. In emergency situations, the stress response, provides the heightened level of energy and alertness to overcome the challenge at hand and that can save, protect and defend lives.

When our senses perceive a threat or dangerous situation, the nervous system responds immediately by flooding the entire body with stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones ready the body for action. The heart beats stronger and faster, the muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breathing quickens and the senses become keener. These physiological changes enhance ones level of strength and stamina, quicken one’s reaction time and sharpen the focus, in preparation to fight or flee from the danger at hand. This process is known as the Acute Stress Response.

We all experience some degree of acute stress sometimes. This is normal and even beneficial. It is also true that what may cause stress for one person, may not be particularly stressful for another.  The stress response becomes problematic when it becomes a chronic state and cannot turn itself off. In this case, it begins to take a serious toll on the body and the mind.

If the stress response mechanisms are not turned off, the system becomes unable to return to a state of equilibrium and looses its ability to self-regulate. This can impair the function of the heart muscle and cardio-vascular system making one vulnerable to hypertension or stroke. It can lead to a variety of mood imbalances including anxiety and depression. These can affect productivity and duty fitness, affect social relations at home and work, and significantly diminish one’s overall quality of life.

When a stress response to a traumatic event remains in the system for more than two days and up to 30 days, this is called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), a medical condition worthy of attention and treatment. With early treatment, the symptoms of ASD can be successfully resolved, and one can avoid advancing into a diagnosis of PTSD.

If that stress response lasts longer than 30 days after the traumatic event, this is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and can potentially become a long-term disability. Even with this diagnosis, proper treatments can manage or resolve the signs and symptoms of PTSD and allow for greater levels of functioning, comfort, and performance.

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