How to Stop Taking Your Trauma Home

Author: IAFF Staff

April 16, 2018

Almost all fire fighters and paramedics will experience traumatic events at some point in their careers. These events may result in feelings of fear, anxiety, panic or depression. Perhaps you witnessed something disturbing and are still grappling with the aftermath. The negative thoughts and emotions you feel may seem overwhelming, affecting everyday tasks. That means the people you live with can also be affected.

But just because you experienced something distressing at work doesn’t mean you must take the trauma home. There are ways to cope with and process difficult experiences without letting them interfere with your home life.

Don’t Seclude Yourself

You may think no one understands what you’re going through, or maybe that coping alone is the best route to take. However, isolating yourself could make matters worse. Try to stay connected with your loved ones and reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with. Accept social invitations, and be open to meeting new people. Don’t be afraid to open up about your struggles with your trusted loved ones or to ask for support. You may also want to consider helping at your favorite charity, finding a support group, or trying new activities to keep your mind focused on positive things and bring new joy into your life.

Regulate Your Nervous System

Having intrusive, negative thoughts can leave you feeling as if you don’t have any control of your mind. There are ways you can regulate your nervous system and relieve some of your psychological symptoms.

  • Practice mindful breathing. For at least five minutes a day for at least a week, focus on slowly and deliberately inhaling and exhaling. You can do this while standing, sitting or lying down. If it helps you concentrate on your breathing, you may want to close your eyes. Mindful breathing can help calm your mind and relieve feelings of anxiety.
  • Don’t run from your emotions. If you’re dealing with general grief or sadness because of a bad call, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s nothing you can do to change the past. Accept your emotions as they come, instead of avoiding them or pushing them away. Let grief takes its course, because sometimes the only way out is through. This can be a healthy step toward emotional intelligence and healing.
  • Use sensory input. Just as there can be negative reactions attached to the senses, there can be positive ones also. Sensory input involves finding a certain taste, sight, sound, sensation or scent that makes you feel calm or happy. This can include a taste of ice cream or the sight of the ocean. It can be classical music or the feeling of a puppy on your lap.

off duty fire fighter taking a run

Stay Active

If you’re dealing with difficult feelings, such as sadness, hopelessness or anxiety, you may want nothing more than to go home and just rest after work. But if you do something that gets you moving every day when you’re off the clock, it can improve your overall mood. Exercise can releases endorphins, so try to include at least 30 minutes of physical activity (cardio or strength training) in your daily routine. This can be done all at once or in fragments, whether it’s two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions. When you perform cardiovascular activities (running, cycling, strength training), focus on your breathing, movements and the wind against your skin, instead of on your thoughts.

Take Care of Your Health

Physical and mental health are important for everyone, whether they’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness or not. In addition to exercising regularly, you should also be eating a healthy, balanced diet. It’s also important to get enough sleep (if possible), and avoid drug and alcohol misuse, which can worsen mental illnesses. If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, call the IAFF Center of Excellence. Our Center is equipped to treat a wide range of addictions, among other conditions.

Know When to Seek Professional Help

Not all conditions can be managed without professional help. If you feel like nothing you’ve tried has helped you work through your thoughts and emotions, you can’t find peace and have been struggling for weeks, it might be time for you to seek professional help.

The IAFF Center of Excellence is designed with the needs of fire fighters in mind. We treat IAFF members exclusively for substance abuse, addiction, PTSD and other co-occurring behavioral health issues. Call today to learn more or to enroll in one of our programs.

We can help. Call 855-900-8437 or

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