Regulating Your Emotions – What You Can Learn From Firefighters

Regulating Your Emotions - What You Can Learn From Firefighters

Regulating Your Emotions – What You Can Learn From Firefighters

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal what you can learn from firefighters – namely, how to regulate your emotions and solve problems.

First a quick update:

“Trump The Guru, Martyr And Saviour
How a TV reality star who became famous for “You’re Fired” is now being sold as the guru, martyr and savior of the US.

“Emotional Emptiness & Depression Lead to Cheating”
Humans have 6 core emotional needs and when those needs are not met or when a person has an emotional void, there is a good chance that he/she will look to fill that need outside the relationship, and, thus will cheat. Watch the video and then read more about emotional voids 7 Steps to fill an emotional void  Watch the video! 

Now, let’s talk about what you can learn from firefighters – namely, how to regulate your emotions and solve problems.

Although there is no scientific definition for stress, most of us perceive stress to be distress. The term “stress” was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Many years later, Selye redefined stress as “The rate of wear and tear on the body”.

Every one of us experiences stress i.e. something that happens in our life which impacts us mentally, emotionally and physically resulting in wear and tear on our body. Accordingly, stress has been identified as a cause, link or contributor to various health issues & diseases: 

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Alzheimer’s disease

We cannot avoid stress; so how do we minimize the rate of wear and tear on our body?

First, we need to change the way we perceive the stressful situations and events in our life, without engaging in denial, constant distraction or escapism which only lead to more problems and ultimately result in greater wear and tear on the body than the original stress we were trying to avoid.

However, more than reframing is required to be able to skillfully handle stress and minimize its destructive effects.

Stress often challenges us to solve a problem (mental, physical, emotional or financial) – an illness, loss, death, financial demand, relationship dysfunction, work routine, travel, obligations and responsibilities, etc.

Firefighters face extraordinary stress and trauma on a daily basis: maximal physical effort (to put out a fire, climb stairs with heavy equipment, carry an injured person to safety, and confront extreme heat & flames); maximum emotional effort (face the trauma of loss, explosions, injury, burns & death during fire or a rescue mission) and; maximum mental effort (solve problems during a fire and emergency crisis.)

Quite shockingly, contrary to what we would expect, studies reveal that there is no consistent link between the extent of on-duty trauma experience for firefighters and the eventual development of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In other words, firefighters have truly extraordinary coping skills for extreme stress.

What is their secret?

Firefighters apply appropriately both emotion-focused coping methods and problem-solving methods.

Firefighters control and regulate their emotions, and, they solve their problems.

Firefighters understand that you must first control and regulate your emotions and then focus on solving the problem. If your emotions are out of control or are controlling you, then you cannot solve the problem.

In one study “Stressors and coping strategies of U.K. firefighters during on-duty incidents” it was found that:
“…problem-orientated coping comprised half of the total coping strategies quoted by participants, with a third of responses being categorized as emotion-focused methods, and 17% were considered to be both problem-focused and emotion-focused techniques. Responses indicate problem-focused methods are often utilized en route to the incident, and at the early stages of operational tasks. Emotion-focused responses are more common during periods of fatigue and exhaustion and post-incident, and problem-focused and emotion-focused techniques were found post-incident, although there was often an overlap between methods and they perhaps should not be treated as three distinct stages.”

Another key finding: Firefighters also had peer support.

Again, this study reveals that the firefighters recognize when to use an emotion-focused coping method and when to use a problem-focused coping method.

For example, firefighters arrive at a scene where burn victims are trapped inside a building and certain firefighters will be designated to rescue the victims inside while others will remain outside to fight the fire. Those outside must disengage from the thought of the suffering of the victims inside so that they can skillfully focus and complete the task of putting out the fire.

Again, the key to a successful outcome is knowing when to focus on the emotion and when to focus on the problem. You cannot focus on just one and ignore the other:

If you focus on the emotion only, you will not get to the root cause of the problem and stress; if you focus only on solving the problem, you will be ignoring its emotional impact on you and it will create other health issues, emotional imbalances and long term dysfunction. For example, many addicts escape, ignore, deny and run away from their actual problems and use drugs, food, gambling, porn or other techniques to escape or suppress the painful emotion which leads to complications from the escapism/addiction, the exacerbation of the original problem, and a worsening and/or deterioration of the psychological state.

Emotion-focused coping methods

  • Distraction – staying busy to take your mind off the issue – useful in the short term only
  • Emotional disclosure & expression – writing, journaling, painting, about the event and/or emotions
  • Social support – beneficial for sympathy, understanding, compassion, moral support and advice
  • Prayer, religion & spirituality – for believers, this is beneficial for context, meaning and guidance and strength
  • Meditation & yoga – beneficial to calm the mind and lessen rumination, fear & anxiety
  • Comfort food and overeating – negative response
  • Drinking alcohol – negative response
  • Drug use – negative response, unless prescribed for short term crisis
  • Journaling – expressing and articulating your thoughts & emotions
  • Suppressing negative thoughts or emotions – negative response because overtime it transforms into health issues; review other above methods to deal with the negative thoughts & emotions without reinforcing them.

Some of the above methods have been suggested by Saul Mcleod in Simply Psychology – although I disagree with some of his interpretations and conclusions.

As mentioned earlier, it is critical to a successful outcome to also deal with the actual problem, the stressor: solve the problem or challenge. Remember, though, if it is actually outside of and beyond your control, focus only on the aspects you can control. Beware of generating extreme stress and anxiety by trying to control or change other people in your life. It won’t work!

Seek social support. Also review this article and other articles to ease anxiety and to regulate your emotions. 

If you need assistance to become more skillful at solving the problem and to identify and use appropriate emotion-focused coping methods, book a one-on-one session with me. 

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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