The Neurobiological Changes to the Brains of First Responders from Stress

Shirley J. Davis
6 min readMay 17, 2020
Photo by Nicholas Bartos on Unsplash

First responders working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world are faced with death every day. Not only the deaths of those they treat but their own if their protective gear fails. Add the stress of being away from family and lack of sleep, and you have a recipe for a catastrophe.

How does all this chronic stress from experiencing repeated trauma effect the brains of first responders and essential workers? Stress changes the fundamental structure of the brain and may lead to memory loss, and mental disorders. This article will focus on the neurological changes in the brains of first responders and essential workers from facing the COVID-19 crisis.

How Chronic Stress Causes Changes In the Brain

Repeated stress from trauma has an enormous impact on the brain, thus putting first responders and essential workers at risk of many problems. Repeated stress is a trigger for chronic inflammation throughout the body. It also plays a leading role in the formation of diabetes and heart disease.

The brain is typically protected from inflammation because circulating inflammatory cells are kept out by the blood/brain barrier. However, chronic, repeated stress causes the wall to leak and allow inflammatory proteins to get into the brain.

Inflammation is humanity’s number one enemy. Once in the brain, it changes many essential structures that help humans to remain emotionally stable and perform memory tasks.

The Effect of Stress on the Hormones of the Brain

Chronic stress increases all the hormones that affect the brain. Two of these stress hormones are called cortisol and corticotropin (CRF). Prolonged exposure to stress causes the brain to become awash in cortisol. This hormone is associated with changing the hippocampal and amygdalar connections.

The hippocampus is associated with memory consolidation into long-term memory and recall. The amygdala is also vital for memory and also responsible for the fight/flight/freeze response that in humanity’s history served to keep the species alive.

Shirley J. Davis

I am an author/speaker/grant writer living among the corn and bean fields of Illinois in the U.S. I own Davis Integrated Services .