HEALTHMentalHow To Improve Brain Function Under Stress

How To Improve Brain Function Under Stress

Mental Health, Improve Your Brain, CRACKYL MAGAZINE

By: John McKenzie

Many people identify stress as one of the key drawbacks of their jobs, and those people would be right. As firefighters, we’re no strangers to stress.

Stress can keep us up at night, increase anxiety, affect relationships and diminish enjoyment of life. But, did you know that stress can be an ally? It’s true. Stress doesn’t have to be the enemy; in fact, we can actually learn to use stress to up our game, and this is especially good news when it comes to our brains.

The different shapes of stress

Stress can take different forms. It can be caused by situations that make our pulse race and our palms sweat. Stress can also mean exertion. Physical activity puts bodily systems under stress and the body responds by making them stronger. As firefighters, we’re regularly exposed to both of these two types of stress. But, we can utilize situational and physical stress to rewire our brains for enhanced function.

We’ve all been tasked with doing something that just seems like something we weren’t built to do. This might mean debriefing in front of other firefighters, meeting with superiors or even singing karaoke in our off time. In these situations, stress can be a hurdle standing between us and success, but it doesn’t have to be that way. One way to turn stress into an ally is to reframe the stress-induced anxiety we feel as excitement. One study found that people who adopted this strategy ended up experiencing better performance under stressful conditions because this approach essentially retrains our brain to interpret stress in a liberating rather than a limiting way.

The many benefits of exercise

Did you know that exercise conditions the brain as well as the body? It’s true, and it’s a very good reason for firefighters to maintain their physical fitness. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.” Activities that incorporate running, biking and swimming “preserve existing brain cells while fostering the growth of new ones.” In fact, one study indicates that “both resistance training and aerobic training positively impact cognitive functioning and result in functional plasticity in healthy older adults.” Many people also consider exercise to be therapeutic, reporting better sleep, improved mood and reduced anxiety, which are all potential sources of decreased mental agility, something we can ill afford in the firefighting profession.

So, if you’re interested in boosting your brainpower, harnessing stress and hitting the gym are two solid strategies to consider incorporating into your day-to-day routine.

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