Impact of stress – Part 3: Work-related stress impacts regular cortisol activity

Stress at work is a common occurrence and not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows a person to focus more on work, push himself and herself harder than before, and meet deadlines with gusto. However, frequent exposure to stress is known to take a toll on one’s body and mind, especially those engaged in professions where intense stress comes with the profile.

Anxiety, loss of interest in work, fatigue, muscle tension, loss of libido and engagement in substance abuse to cope with some of the common symptoms of workplace stress at play. Although various viable techniques for dealing with stress exists, they cannot ensure the same stress-busting effect across all professions.

The enlisted military personnel, firefighters, airline pilots, police officers, newspaper reporters, social workers, emergency dispatchers, registered nurses and surgeons among many others seldom have the choice to walk away from stress as their call of duty is far greater. This is the third article of the series that talks about the latest discovery on how stress is impacting the United States.

Incidents igniting extreme stress in police officers

A study from the University at Buffalo and funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined over 300 police officers of the Buffalo Police Department and found that their cortisol functions differently due to the exposure to intense stress that comes with the job.

In brief, the study found a close relationship between work-related stressors and dysfunctioning of the cortisol, which assists a person in regulating various stressors of the body. Compared to the past studies, this is the first study to analyze the impact of the actual intensity of stressors on the cortisol.

In addition, it was discovered that the disruption of the normal functioning of the cortisol due to the excessive stress increases the risk of onset of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). The study began in 1999 and was published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2017.

The police officers rated 60 police-related incidents in terms of stress in a questionnaire. The incidents mentioned in the questionnaire that received the highest ratings for generating stress were:

  • Exposure to deceased children
  • Killing someone in the line of duty
  • Having a fellow officer killed on duty
  • Situation requiring the use of force
  • Being physical attacked

Cardiovascular diseases linked to activation of cortisol patterns due to stress

The cortisol levels of the police officers were measured by sampling their saliva after waking up and 15, 30 and 45 minutes thereafter. The cortisol patterns were then measured with the officers who had experienced five least stressful events mentioned in the questionnaire compared to officers who experienced one of the top five stressors. It was found that:

  • Officers who weren’t stressed exhibited a stable increase in cortisol from baseline.
  • Officers with moderate and high major stress index displayed a blunted response over time.

The study also presented the way stress affects the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA Axis), which triggers cortisol and activates even during exposure to stressors gets altered from the normal bell curve representation over time.

On the one hand, the average age of death for a male Buffalo Police Officers is 68 years compared to 78 years for the general population. On the other hand, death rates due to CVDs are higher among officers’ lives compared to the public. John Violanti, Ph.D., research professor of epidemiology and environmental health, University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions and his team of investigators emphasize upon the need to have a number of peer support programs within the police departments.

Don’t let inner struggle jeopardize your mental health

The frequent exposure to stress affects the cortisol levels adversely. It makes it extremely difficult for the cortisol levels to reach the normal level. In addition, unhealthy awakening of cortisol may stem from stress and anxiety, which make one vulnerable to CVDs.

If you or your loved one is suffering from the symptoms of mental disorders, it is imperative to seek help. The Colorado Mental Health Help assists in accessing the best mental health rehab in Colorado that specializes in delivering evidence-based intervention plans. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-899-5063 or chat online with our medical representatives to know more about the state-of-the-art mental health treatment centers in Colorado.

Read the other articles of the series “Impact of stress:”

Part 1: Increase risk of heart disease and stroke

Part 2: Leads to pathological anxiety