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In the Heat of the Moment, How Do You Maintain Balance?

The fire service is a dynamic entity where you find that no two days are exactly alike and can be seemingly unpredictable.  As members, we are called upon at a moment’s notice to respond to situations that can place our lives in jeopardy: structure fires, auto accidents, confined space and hazmat incidents, EMS calls, water rescues, and so on.  Anyone reading this post would make the argument that our profession contributes to a heightened stress response, which is made more complex by the fact that we are asked to live with the same group for extended periods of time (sometimes we get along . . . sometimes we don’t).  Given all this, how do you maintain balance?

The adrenaline junkie in all of us says its okay to be ramped up for a call as we will perform better (or win that disagreement with a co-worker).  However, this rush can rob us of situational awareness (seeing the big picture), and can create tunnel vision (narrow focus). So, what can we do to prevent such a consequence from occurring?

Since I began healing from the wounds of post-traumatic stress over sixteen months ago, I added an effective technique to my tool box that has helped me to harness the rising energy created by both calls for service and interpersonal conflicts with fellow firefighters: meditation.  Don’t worry, I am not going to go all Zen on you and talk about floating away to some transcendental plane – I am just going to discuss using the breath as a tool to calm and refocus us to what is important during critical moments of our day.  One of the best places to start the practice is right at the source of most of our daily occupational stress: the firehouse.

Simple Meditation

1.      Sitting in a chair or lying in your bunk with your eyes closed, begin to focus in on the rise and fall of your abdomen/chest with each breath.
2.      After several cycles of normal breathing, start to control the breath by inhaling to a count of five, hold for a second or two, and then exhale for a count of five.
3.      Begin your meditation practice by starting with a length of five minutes and work your way to a goal of 45 minutes. The length of time is not as important as the quality and focus of your practice. Use the timer on your smartphone to keep you on point.
4.      Now comes the tricky part: while working with your breathing, take note of what your mind is doing.   At the very beginning you will most likely notice that it is very active and full of chatter.  More often than not, the mind wanders between what has already occurred, and future events that may or may not come to fruition.  When this happens, acknowledge the presence of these thoughts without judgment, let them go, and return to the breath as your center of focus.  You always want to dwell in the present moment because it knows no past nor future.

5.      Do not become discouraged if your mind wanders several times during your meditation practice as this is normal.  In time, the mind will become quieter and allow you to dwell within a new found peace.
6.      I practice Kundalini yoga (more on this at a later time) which incorporates meditation into this eastern art form.  When I meditate, I will listen to kundalini music which also settles my mind.  It still wanders from time to time, but I never let myself become discouraged- I just push onward and upward.
7.      Another alternative is to start with a guided (instructional meditation) where you will follow the voice of another throughout the practice.
The ultimate goal is to make this meditative practice a part of the fabric of your daily life to be done at both the firehouse and home or wherever you see fit.  The next time you get are about to get into a heated discussion with a co-worker walk away, meditate for at least five minutes, and then see if you can return with a renewed sense of emotional clarity to begin the conversation once again.


The key take away from this discussion is that with dedicated practice, you will be able to invoke the parasympathetic (relaxation) response by focusing on the breath.  A calm body will equal a clear mind that opens us to wider situational awareness capabilities when we most need it- where the rubber meets the road.  If you have other ways in which you control your emotional responses, please submit send them to me at [email protected] inclusion in a future post so that others may also benefit.  Until next time . . .
Stay safe,

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