Putting Out the Fire in the Firefighter: How to Deal with Anger

Picture this scene: You’re driving home from your second double shift in as many weeks because you were on mandatory at a busy station. You ran four calls after midnight, none of which felt like “true emergencies.” The icing on the crap cake is that your spouse called you during shift to let you know the roof is leaking.

You pull into your driveway, walk inside, and it’s chaos. The house is a mess, your kids are running around screaming, and your spouse immediately starts giving you the laundry list of to-do items that need to be done today. Oh, and don’t forget about that leaking roof.

You go bananas: yelling, screaming, cussing, and slamming doors. Maybe you hurl insults at your spouse, you yell at your kids, or you just completely shut down and stare off into space, doing everything you can to not explode, but shutting out your family in the meantime.

Sound vaguely familiar? If you’re dealing with anger, chances are it’s not just happening at home, either. You’re probably lashing out at crew members, friends, and relatives. You might even start losing your patience with patients (see what I did there?)

So, we should probably figure out what to do about that anger. I covered the ins and outs of anger in a different post, so check that out if you want to learn more. In this post, I want to give you some tips on dealing with anger.

First, notice that I didn’t say “manage anger.” That was on purpose. Managing anger gives the impression that you should control anger, itself. The problem is attempting to control thoughts and feelings can be a difficult task. Instead, I want to give you tools to help you confront and deal with feelings of anger.

Tip 1: Train on Anger

You wouldn’t immediately go into the field and begin working calls without appropriate training. You would risk harming victims, crew members, and yourself. You go through a massive amount of training in order to do the job efficiently, effectively, and safely.

Just like you train for the job, you can train on how to deal with anger more effectively. The difference is that training on anger is less tangible. You have to be willing to engage in exercises that help you become more aware of your angry thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. The more aware you become of your own anger, the better you can be at dealing with it effectively. One of the best ways to increase awareness of your anger is by practicing internal situational awareness training (iSAT).

Tip 2: Get Angry

Wait. What? But I thought we were supposed to avoid anger.

NO! Remember, you can’t stop yourself from experiencing anger. Trying to avoid anger would be like trying to avoid that 3:00am Basic Service call: It’s impossible. In fact, trying to avoid anger is likely going to increase feelings of frustration and anger, exactly because it’s so difficult to avoid feeling angry. And then, you just end up getting angry about…..being angry!

We actually want you to do the opposite: Intentionally and purposefully experience the feeling of anger in order to overcome it. But let me clarify: I don’t mean that you should intentionally act angry. That wouldn’t be helpful at all! What I mean is put yourself in a situation that is likely to induce the feeling of anger, so you can train on dealing with it. You can think of it like stress inoculation training, except it’s more like anger inoculation training.

It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out ways to make yourself angry: Think of a political issue/person that really pisses you off, remember the last time someone insulted you, think of that one annoying jackass, etc. The idea is, you want to stir up feelings of anger, then move on to Tip 3.

Tip 3: Detach from Anger

Car accidents can be scary for victims, especially when they are trapped in compressed steel. Anger can feel that way too. When you’re consumed by anger, you lose control over how you act. Before you know it, you’re doing and saying things that you later regret.

For compressed steel, you can use spreaders to create space for victims to get free. You can do something similar when dealing with overwhelming anger, but it takes training on anger (Tip 1) and the willingness to get angry (Tip 2). Once you start feeling yourself getting angry, try these steps to help create space from the anger:

  1. Identify 2 to 3 places in your body where you notice angry feelings (e.g., chest, stomach, shoulders, etc.)
  2. Identify and label angry thoughts (e.g., “There is a judgmental thought”, “there’s a thought about blaming someone”, “here are thoughts about others being wrong”, etc.)
  3. Now, intentionally focus on other parts of your inner or outer experience where anger does not exist. For example, are you feeling angry in your feet? Are you feeling angry in your hands? Can you notice one or two things you can see or hear? The purpose isn’t to distract yourself from anger, it’s to momentarily shift focus to help you notice that anger is not all-consuming, it only exists in certain areas of your body (e.g., chest, stomach, shoulders, etc.). This can help you create space between you and anger.

Every time you feel yourself getting caught up in angry thoughts and feelings, return back to the sensations where you do not notice the feeling of anger (e.g., Feet, hands, breath, sights, sounds).

Tip 4: Develop an Anger Standard Operating Procedure

The point of Tips 1 – 3 is to help you accomplish Tip 4. At the end of the day, you must respond to what’s in front of you. The question becomes, how do you really want to respond, even when you’re angry? It’s best to identify and clearly establish the qualities you would like to show when responding to situations that evoke anger. Here are a few examples of qualities you could work toward:

  • Assertive
  • Respectful
  • Standing up for myself
  • Kind
  • Forgiving
  • Friendly
  • Mean
  • Insulting
  • Aggressive
  • Hostile
  • Condescending
  • Degrading

When anger is in the driver’s seat of your actions, are you more likely to act on the column on the left or the right? Which column would you like your actions to represent? The idea here is to notice how you would prefer to respond when feeling angry, then start to write out ideas of what specific actions you could take that would move you toward the column of your choosing.

It’s not always easy to change your behavior in the presence of anger. After all, you’ve been reacting in similar ways for a long time and, as the saying goes, habits can be hard to break. That’s why training is so important. The more you train, the better you’ll be at replacing old habits with newer ones.

If you’re really struggling with anger or any other behavioral health difficulty, feel free to call us or self-schedule an appointment.

Understanding the Fire within the Firefighter: The Ins and Outs of Anger

If you get angry, you’re not alone. Anger, irritability, and lashing out tend to be one of the top reasons firefighters seek out behavioral health providers. It usually comes to a head after you lashed out at family, friends, or crew members over something seemingly small.

Anger can occur for many different reasons and doesn’t always mean something is wrong. For example, most of us get angry when someone cuts us off in traffic. On the other hand, anger could also indicate you’re struggling with behavioral health difficulties. For example, recent research demonstrated a strong relationship between anger, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and substance use among 660 firefighters.

More alarming is the relationship between anger and suicide. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance lists anger as one of the top 5 risk indicators of suicide. Specifically, they stated, “Within the 945 firefighter and EMS suicides, we have validated that 46 are murder-suicide events“ (Dill, 2017).

So, we should probably talk about that anger.

What is Anger?

Let’s start with why we get angry. It’s actually pretty simple: We’re pre-wired for anger. What we call anger is our body’s natural reaction to feeling threatened in some way. Ever hear of the fight-flight-or-freeze response? Notice the first word is FIGHT!

The fight response is a quick and easy explanation of the autonomic nervous system at work. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body to take life-saving actions by increasing the heart rate and body temperature, tightening and tensing muscles, and generating hyperarousal. Keep in mind that this system functions almost automatically and involuntarily at the perception of a threat.

This is where things can be a bit tricky: the perception of a threat. From a survival perspective, the fight response is extremely adaptive, healthy, and normal. The problem is that most of the times we experience anger, we are not in immediate life-threatening danger. So, what the hell is going on?

The Power of Perception

When I was in high school, my biology teacher used to do this thing after every one of our exams that pissed me off: She would write down the range of test scores in the class. The reason this made me so angry was because everyone knew who got the lowest grade on the exam: It was me. I was terrible at biology and every one of my classmates knew it.

I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I felt really stupid. These feelings are painful, raw, and vulnerable. They make me feel weak. Anger makes me feel more powerful, strong, and defended. It’s like a suit of armor.

This makes sense in the context of FIGHT mode. In caveman days, weakness could lead to death. Even though we don’t have to deal with saber-toothed tigers anymore, a feeling of weakness still signals the primitive parts of our brain to defend ourselves (FIGHT mode).

So, our brains are just simply trying to do what it thinks is in our best interest for survival. Unfortunately, the primitive parts of our brain can’t distinguish between the vulnerability of standing in front of a sabered-tooth tiger and the vulnerability of feeling embarrassed and ashamed in high school. As soon as the familiar feeling of vulnerability and/or weakness arises, so does the armor of self-defense (i.e., anger).

The trick is to train your brain to recognize the different parts of anger so that you don’t get lost in it. We can break anger down into 5 component parts.

5 Parts of Anger

Let’s set the scene. There must be some external or internal stimuli before you experience any parts of anger. In other words, something happens in your life (or in your head) that provokes anger. This could include being skipped for promotions, kids going nuts, or just simply remembering the last argument you had with your spouse. When that happens, we usually experience the following parts of anger:

  1. Pre-Angry Feelings: This is the stuff no one likes to admit – the vulnerable stuff. For me in high school, it was shame and embarrassment. For firefighters dealing with significant others who don’t seem to understand the impact of the job, pre-angry feelings can include loneliness and helplessness or feeling unheard and unloved, among many others.
  2. Angry Thoughts: There are a variety of thoughts, images, and memories you might experience when confronted with a situation that provokes anger. This can include judging, criticizing, cursing, insulting, blaming, and more. We might automatically use harsh labels, such as idiot, lazy, a-hole, or some other colorful description.
  3. Anger Feelings: This is the sympathetic nervous system (i.e., FIGHT mode) kicking into gear. We experience a range of different physiological responses, including rapid or pounding heartbeat, clenched jaw, muscle tension, blood pumping, increased body temperature, and fast breathing. Remember, this is the body’s natural response to threat.
  4. Impulse to Act: This is an urge to do something directed by the angry feelings. Maybe there is a part of you that so badly wants to yell “Go f*ck yourself” to a crew member, superior, or family member. Others experience a strong urge to scream, punch, or throw things. You can also have an urge to name-call, be sarcastic and condescending, or say hurtful things. Keep in mind, these are just thoughts and feelings (i.e., urges), not actions. Taking action on impulses is next.
  5. Angry Actions: Most people tend to deal with anger in one of two ways: Act out of anger or suppress angry thoughts and feelings. Acting out of anger can be actually yelling “Go f*ck yourself,” hitting, screaming, insulting, name-calling, being sarcastic or condescending, or even acting passive-aggressively. We also attempt to engage in catharsis, including punching a pillow, screaming by yourself, going to the gym, etc.

    Suppressing angry thoughts and feelings include withdrawing from others, staring off into space, numbing emotions, drinking alcohol or doing drugs, and trying to think of something positive. Unfortunately, suppressing thoughts and feelings can often have the opposite effect than we intended. In other words, it can be even more infuriating to constantly try pushing down your anger, only to realize you feel angry anyway.

Notice that the first 4 parts of anger are all things that happen inside of your skin in response to the things that happen on the outside. We typically respond so quickly that we never have an opportunity to notice these different parts of anger, let alone learn how to deal with them. Usually, that’s because the first 4 parts of anger occur almost automatically and involuntarily – It’s your brain responding to a perceived threat.

So, it can be helpful to let go of the expectation that you’ll stop your primitive brain from automatically preparing to keep you safe. Instead, knowing the processes that are in play might allow you to notice them as they are occurring. Noticing them, in the moment they are occurring, is one of the best ways to begin separating yourself from anger so it no longer controls how you act toward others.

If you’re really struggling with anger or any other behavioral health difficulty, feel free to call us or self-schedule an appointment.

Psychological Impact of Working as a Firefighter

Fire service personnel witness traumatic events everyday and traditionally, a stigma existed, leading many firefighters to keep their feelings about these events to themselves. Thankfully, things are now changing.

Not many people know about the day-to-day job of fire service personnel. Believe it or not, less than 5% of calls received by the fire department are fires. The vast majority of calls – 75% or more – are medical emergencies. This includes severe car accidents, natural disasters, substance overdoses, heart attacks, etc. This means members of the fire service witness horrifying, gruesome, and life-threatening events everyday. As the saying goes in many fire departments: “Your worst day is our everyday.” 

Traditionally, however, the fire department has been stoic about these experiences. Psychological suffering was seen as weak-mindedness and emotional turmoil was stigmatized. Those who struggled with cumulative tragedy were shunned and labeled as people who couldn’t cut it to be a firefighter.  

However, the culture in the fire service is changing thanks to recent research shedding light on the emotional toll of these experiences. Compared to the general population, fire service personnel have higher rates of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and problems related to alcohol use. One gut-wrenching study in 2017 found more firefighters died by suicide than in the line of duty.

These findings led to important initiatives across the state of Florida. The Florida Firefighter Health and Safety Collaborative, for example, offers two-day workshops specific for behavioral health clinicians. These workshops aim to increase clinician awareness and competence in working with firefighters.

Although awareness is key to initiate change in firefighter psychological wellbeing, there is still much work to be done. If you or a loved one is a first responder struggling with stress, irritability, sadness, and difficulties connecting with those around them, know that there are clinicians out there who can help. It’s time to change the culture around the fire service. It’s okay to not be okay.

How to Be Kind to Yourself (+ Top 10 List)

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Day, Dr. Isoma shares his own struggle with being kind to himself and shares a list of ways to treat yourself with more kindness.

This has been a rough first month of the New Year for me. My wife and I are expecting our first baby, we just opened our new practice, and we are still putting our new home together. I know this all sounds really exciting, and it is. But, at times, it can also be stressful and scary.

What if my practice fails? Am I going to be a good father? What if I can’t manage everything? These questions constantly bombard my mind. Then, my inner critic starts up: “You’re too disorganized,” “You’re in over your head,” “You don’t even know how to hold a baby – you’re going to be a terrible dad.” The underlying message tends to be the same: “You’re not good enough.”

Perhaps you can relate to some version of the “I’m not good enough” story. When it shows up, it can make us feel terrible about ourselves and bring us down. Most of the time, we work really hard to push this story away, argue with it, or distract ourselves from it. But it always comes back, typically when we feel at our worst.

Sometimes it can feel like our mind is our worst enemy – like a bully just looking to kick us while we’re down. But if you take a closer listen, you might notice that this so-called bully is actually trying to give you some important information. 

Our brains evolved to keep us safe from perceived dangers, connect with others, and help us grow. Being able to anticipate failures, avoid pitfalls, and drive our system into fight-or-flight mode increases our chances at continued survival. This means that even the most self-critical information is for the purpose of safety and advancement.

Think of it this way – It wouldn’t be all that helpful if our minds gave us only positive affirmations. What would happen if my mind only told me I’m going to be the best dad in the world? (Yes, that’s what my future mug will say.) What’s motivating me to learn how to properly hold a baby, take parenting classes, or even attend to my child’s needs? Without my inner critic, I would think I’m already awesome at everything, even if I’m really not.

In some ways, our “negative” mind is more like a close friend without a filter rather than a vindictive bully. Most of us want our friends to let us know when we mess up, so we can learn and grow. The problem with this friend is he has no idea how to say things in a “nice” way. Still, you know he has your best interest in mind.

So, how do we deal with this filter-less friend who really just wants the best for us? For starters, notice what isn’t working – telling your inner friend to shut up, arguing with him, ignoring him, or drowning him out with the fifth consecutive episode of your favorite show. Instead, I invite you to do something completely different – listen to him.

If you are willing, even for two minutes, listen from a different perspective. When your inner friend says, “I’m not good enough,” what do you think he/she is really trying to tell you? If it’s possible that their words are intended to keep you safe, would you want to treat him/her differently?

I’m not saying you have to like this inner friend all the time – I know I don’t. You don’t even HAVE to be kind to him/her. But see what it might be like to stop fighting with him/her all the time and invite them to join your journey. If you would like to learn specific ways to treat yourself with more kindness, here’s a list of my top 10 recommendations.


  1. Give yourself a hug. If it feels awkward and weird, you’re doing it right. Give it another 10 seconds and see what it was like to really hug yourself.
  2. Do the activity that makes you feel most connected to life. For me, going to the beach is when I feel whole, even if I’m also feeling hurt.
  3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, even if it’s unpleasant. There is a big difference between fighting against painful feelings and being willing to have them.
  4. Chances are you are doing the best you can with what you have. Gently remind yourself of that and see what happens when you can let your best be good enough.
  5. See if you can remember a time during your childhood when you felt hurt. Bring to mind what you looked like during that time. Then, imagine you were able to meet this childhood version of yourself. What do you think this small child needed back then? Are you willing to give that child what he or she needs in this moment, if only in your imagination?
  6. Re-introduce yourself to your inner voice. Spend 30 seconds allowing your mind to just chatter on and see if you can really listen to what the mind is saying, as if this is a close friend you haven’t seen in years.
  7. Try out some of the self-compassion exercises by Kristen Neff.
  8. Imagine someone you care deeply for in their most painful moments. How would you want to be there for that person? What are some things you might say or do when you are with that person? Now, see if you can replace that someone with yourself.
  9. When you notice your mind criticizing you, no need to try fighting with it. Believe it or not, this is your mind’s way of letting you know something important is happening. Picture this inner critic as an infant or toddler trying to get its needs met. How does this change your relationship with your self-critic?
  10. If you’re anything like me when trying these exercises, the mind still judges and criticizes, like a bully who just won’t give up. The secret about bullies – they’re usually the ones who need to be cared for the most. So, when you notice the bully show up, give them some love too.

Fatherhood: Expectations vs Reality [Guest Blog]

In this guest blog, Dr. Kevin Hyde discusses his experience in becoming a father, and the struggles and feelings that come along with it.

I don’t know about you, but before I became a father I had visions of wrestling, playing catch in the backyard, and silly dad jokes that make everyone roll their eyes. As the father of two girls under the age of four, I can definitively say that, while those things have all happened, the reality of fatherhood has been very different from my original expectations.

For example, I came up with this blog idea as I was trying to shovel yogurt into the mouth of a two-year-old as quickly as possible so we could make it to church on time. Spoiler alert: we were late. Not in my original plan…

I know that I’m not alone in having real life laugh in the face of my dreams and expectations. In fact, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that we’ve ALL had that happen at some point in our lives. Parenting, and fatherhood in particular, just tends to be one of the most eye-opening examples.

We may or may not recognize it, but we all enter fatherhood with an agenda. Either we want to emulate our parents… or we want to be sure that our kids get a better experience than we had as children. But the experiences we remember that helped form our expectations of parenthood typically come from memories during grade school, pre-adolescent, or teenage years. We can’t remember what our parents were like during early childhood, and that’s probably a good thing!

The first thing we are faced with as fathers is how to love a wrinkly potato that provides no response other than to let you know that you have no idea what you’re doing so you should hand the spud back over to mommy. More than once I questioned whether I was ever going to figure out how to feed or comfort the baby.

But the good news is I was a diaper changing champion. It was like I was on the pit crew for the Daytona 500, which meant I got all sorts of accolades from those around us. That’s right, gentlemen, you change a diaper and you get accolades while your wife is lucky if she isn’t criticized for not having organically certified, reusable cotton baby wipes on her 24/7.

I never expected that it would be a struggle to try and connect with my child during the early months, but it was. My wife was the comforter, the source of food, and the one who recognized which cry meant which need was unmet. I was jealous of how close she was with our child… but I couldn’t tell that to anyone because, “men are tough, they figure things out.” Things would’ve been a little easier without that preconceived notion because I could’ve learned that I wasn’t alone. Now I know that many men feel exactly as I did.

I wasn’t actually alone, it just felt that way because my pride kept me from opening up to others!

Reality started matching up better with my expectations as our oldest turned one and became a serious daredevil who LOVED me throwing her up in the air, wrestling all around the house, and letting her climb trees in the backyard. My wife actually got jealous of the connection the baby and I developed during this period… so she demanded a second child.

Hey, for number two at least I was prepared for those early months, right? HA!

You’re probably beginning to notice a pattern. I hold some expectations in my mind of how something should go, and I end up shocked/frustrated/disappointed/hurt/angry/etc. Not a very fun pattern to be stuck in!

So what do I do about it now that I’ve got two toddlers?

I try very hard to stay engaged in the present moment. Granted it’s not always easy. I find my mindfulness meditation practice ebbs and flows just like my exercise routine. But I absolutely recognize a connection between feeling less stressed, anxious, and irritable when I’m more mindfully present with my family.

Even just five minutes of mindfulness meditation each day helps me respond better to the inevitable frustrations that arise from spilled milk, sibling arguments, or plans that need to be changed because of unexpected illness. I feel more fulfilled when I’m able to stay focused on playing with my kids, or really observing them while playing on their own in the backyard… instead of looking at my phone.

So if you are a fellow father, I would challenge you to put down the phone, turn off the TV, or turn away from whatever occupies most of your attention and see what happens when you truly engage with your kids in the present moment. You might find the kids obey a little more or even that your wife feels a little more seen. And a pretty nice bonus is that when your kids are grown up and out of the house, you’ll have no regrets about not spending enough time with them. Living out your values is never a bad thing.

Whether a situation meets your expectations or not, or whether another person would call the situation “good” or not, doesn’t make a lick of difference in what you and your family define as quality time. Don’t let those unexpectedly enjoyable moments continue to pass you by. Reality should be the only expectation.


Dr. Kevin Hyde is a clinical psychologist licensed to practice in the state of Florida. He resides in Pinellas County with his wife and two young daughters. In his spare time, Dr. Hyde enjoys relaxing at the beach with family, watching Nationals baseball, baking bread, and keeping up with current events. He founded Pinellas Anxiety Specialists with the intention of providing high quality anxiety therapy to reduce the stress and anxiety that so many cope with on a daily basis.