Firefighting is a high-stress job that can have serious implications for the physical and mental health of firefighters. One of the ways in which firefighters can manage stress is by practicing mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness involves focusing one's attention on the present moment and can be a powerful tool for regulating the body's stress response. In this article, we will explore the ways in which mindfulness can be used to regulate the HPA axis, the body's stress response system, and provide tips for firefighters to practice mindfulness while on duty and off shift.

The HPA Axis and Stress Response:

The HPA axis is a complex network of hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate the body's response to stress. When the body perceives a threat, the HPA axis is activated, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare the body for a fight or flight response. Over time, chronic stress can lead to dysregulation of the HPA axis, contributing to a range of physical and mental health issues.

Mindfulness Techniques for Firefighters:

Breathing Exercises: Mindful breathing exercises can help regulate the HPA axis by slowing down the heart rate and reducing cortisol levels. Firefighters can try diaphragmatic breathing, where they inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, focusing on the sensation of the breath.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups to release tension and promote relaxation. Firefighters can start at their toes and work their way up their body, tensing and relaxing each muscle group for a few seconds.

Guided Imagery: Guided imagery involves visualizing a calming or peaceful scene to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Firefighters can use guided imagery to imagine a calming scene, like a beach or forest, and focus on the sensory details of the scene.

Mindful Movement: Mindful movement, such as yoga or tai chi, can help to regulate the HPA axis by promoting relaxation and reducing stress. Firefighters can try simple yoga poses or tai chi movements during breaks to promote relaxation.

Off Shift:

Firefighters can also practice mindfulness techniques off shift to help regulate their stress levels and promote overall well-being. Some tips include:

Engage in Relaxing Activities: Engaging in relaxing activities, like reading a book or taking a warm bath, can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Connect with Others: Social connection is an important aspect of managing stress. Firefighters can connect with friends or family members, or join a support group for first responders.

Get Enough Sleep: Sleep is crucial for regulating the HPA axis and managing stress. Firefighters should prioritize getting enough sleep, even on days off, to promote overall well-being.

Mindfulness techniques can be a powerful tool for regulating the HPA axis and managing stress for firefighters. By practicing mindfulness techniques while on duty and off shift, firefighters can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. By prioritizing their physical and mental health, firefighters can better perform their job duties and maintain a high quality of life.

Mindfulness For Firefighters On Duty / Off Duty

Information provided by

Guided Mindfulness Recordings

Mindfulness Practices led by Crisis Centre Volunteers

Breath Awareness (2:45 min)
Body Scan (3:33 min)
Exploring Peace (3:39 min)
Mindfulness of Body and Breath (6:09 min)

Mindfulness Practices led by Other Organizations
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre
Simon Fraser University – Health and Counselling Services Audio Recordings
UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre
The STOP practice

Mindfulness Apps
Tools for Peace Meditation App
HEADSPACE Meditation App
MindApps – Apps That Move Your Mind
Mindfulness Meditation – MentalWorkout
Take a Chill – Stressed Teens
MindShift – Anxiety App

Other Mindfulness Resources

Common Questions About Mindfulness
Videos on Mindfulness
Articles on Mindfulness

Looking for classes or instruction? Check out the crisis Center Resource List. Find classes on mindfulness in the Lower Mainland of BC.

Download a written breathing exercise or body scan. Read it to yourself or someone in your life. Lead your own mindfulness practices when you choose.

Coping Using Mindfulness

Life can be challenging. Taking time to be mindful – to stop and notice what’s going on within you and around you – can help with recognizing and reducing stress, anxiety and other intense experiences. Learning simple techniques can grow your awareness of what’s going on and what you can to do to create more ease in your life.

Click through the links below to learn more about mindfulness, how it might help, and to try out simple practices.

A Simple Mindfulness Practice

Close your eyes and identify five sounds you hear in this moment
“Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 18   /   Vancouver Fire Rescue Services 

​VANFIRE Wellness