The PTSD Pressure Cooker

Author: IAFF Center of Excellence Staff

February 3, 2020

Coming to terms with a traumatic event is always difficult. If you’re a fire fighter or paramedic struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you know that symptoms can interfere with your personal and professional life. To cope, you may be tempted to push away your feelings, hoping that in time they’ll go away on their own.

Attempting to deny or suppress PTSD symptoms doesn’t make them fade any faster; in fact, they usually worsen. In many ways, ignoring PTSD symptoms is like turning up the heat in a pressure cooker. The longer you wait to acknowledge your symptoms and get the help you need, the more the pressure builds — and the more likely you are to explode.

Bottling It Up

After experiencing a traumatic event, you may want to do whatever you can to move on and forget what you witnessed. This can be impossible.

Even though you’re struggling, you may continue to go to work or function — doing your best to pretend that everything is okay.

Fire fighter on a ramp about to put out a fire

Turning Up the Heat

As time goes by and you continue to shake off your symptoms, you may realize that they are not going to go away. The feeling that danger is imminent may be ever present. The smallest inconveniences may put you on edge. Despite trying your hardest to keep it together, it’s difficult when you’re constantly reliving one of the worst events of your life.

The persistence of PTSD symptoms is enough to push you to your breaking point. You may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope and dull your pain. That diversion may work — but only for a little while.

As you continue to delay seeking help for your condition, your personal and professional life may begin to suffer. Maybe after a long day at work, you might yell at your spouse in anger over a sink full of dirty dishes. Maybe your chief notices you’re coming to work later and later. While these incidents on their own may not cause a major crisis in your life, as they increase over time, they may begin to wear away at your personal relationships and your professional reputation.


With proper treatment, you can learn how to manage your PTSD symptoms, rebuild your relationships and recommit yourself to a job you love. However, without professional care, PTSD could cost you nearly everything. Trying to maintain a front of normalcy while grappling with this condition is like building a house made of cards and expecting it not to fall. It might stay sturdy for a little while, but eventually it will come apart. You could lose your family, your friends and the career you’ve worked so hard for.

This doesn’t have to be the way you live your life. You can find relief from your symptoms, but your healing can only begin once you’ve admitted that you need help.

The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery has helped connect hundreds of fire fighters and paramedics to lifesaving care — the Center of Excellence can help you, too. Contact a representative today for more information.


National Institute of Mental Health. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Accessed January 7, 2020.

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