“TM is very relaxing and I can now easily fall asleep at night. It allows me to face the day without having such a short fuse and to go about my day with much more ease, understanding and presence.”

—Sam van Born, Captain, North Vancouver City Fire Department

Overcoming Physical and Psychological Stress

In 2015, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and the International Association of Fire Fighters launched a mental wellness initiative, stressing the importance of acknowledging psychological stress in the firefighting profession and of finding solutions. According to the CAFC, between 10%–35% of first responders in Canada will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Among the issues identified are:

  • High levels of alcoholism and substance misuse;
  • A suicide rate 30% higher than that of comparison groups; and
  • Marital problems that are 50% higher.
The stress is due to the physically dangerous and psychologically taxing nature of the job. Firefighters work long shifts in small teams; they may suffer from sleep deprivation and are routinely exposed to the dangers of fire, chemicals and biological hazards.

Firefighters experience life-threatening and highly stressful events on a daily basis. Beyond their more traditional role of fighting fires, they are usually first on the scene of accidents, suicides, and acts of violence. They may have to respond to large events with many casualties, such as floods, earthquakes, school shootings or plane crashes; they deal with the possibility of death and destruction on every call.

Firefighting remains a predominantly male profession, with fewer than 4% of volunteer or professional firefighters in Canada being women. This minority status in the profession puts additional stress on women firefighters who may face harassment on the job.

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a useful tool in any initiative to combat physical and psychological stress in firefighters, including PTSD. TM has been shown to significantly lower stress, and to help the body recover more quickly from stressful situations. TM also strengthens the immune system and improves brain functioning so that one can think more clearly in stressful situations. As well, TM has been demonstrated to bring about a decrease in anxiety and depression. Both the psychological and physical stress of firefighting can be mitigated through regular practice of TM.

Transcendental Meditation is:

  • Evidence-based—over 675 scientific studies; 406 have been published in independent, peer-reviewed journals or other edited scientific publications;
  • Simple to learn—standardized instruction ensures consistent results;
  • Easy to practise—does not involve concentration or controlling the mind;
  • Confidential and portable—can be practised privately, anywhere, at any time.

Benefits of the regular practice of the TM technique include:

  • Reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression;
  • Reduced anger and hostility;
  • Decreased reliance on alcohol;
  • Reduction in high blood pressure;
  • Reduction in high cortisol levels;
  • Increased resilience;
  • Decreased perceived stress.

Our Work with Firefighters

Firefighters in the Greater Vancouver Area Find Relief from Stress with the Transcendental Meditation Technique

In 2017-2018, the Canadian Women’s Wellness Initiative instructed 13 female firefighters in the Transcendental Meditation technique. 

The project began when  Deboragh Varnel, Director of the TM for Women Centre in Vancouver, contacted the Team Coordinator for Critical Incident Stress Management at the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. The Team Coordinator gave Deboragh permission to invite female firefighters to an introductory presentation on the TM technique. 

Each of the 13 firefighters who learned TM was tested for perceived stress before learning the technique, and again after three months of practice. The results were very positive with many of the participants expressing a deep appreciation for being able to learn a way to release stress, find an inner calm and stability and discover newfound appreciation of life. 

Read more about the project.  Extinguishing Stress in Women Firefighters (pdf)

Canadian Womens Wellness Initiative