Understanding (and Managing) the Impact of Fireworks on PTSD

People often hear post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and immediately relate this condition to high risk career fields like military service, policework, and firefighting. It may seem obvious that PTSD related to one of these high risk careers could be triggered by fireworks. However, even PTSD that doesn’t seem directly related to loud noises, flashing lights, and fire may still be triggered by fireworks. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at why fireworks may trigger PTSD symptoms as well as providing tips to manage PTSD triggers during July 4th firework shows.

What Is PTSD & Who Does it Impact?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event as well as due to repeated exposure to traumatic experiences or as a result of neglect or abuse in childhood. Traumatic events that result in PTSD are often extremely frightening or life-threatening. However, it’s worth noting that every person has a different threshold. That means something that triggers a trauma response in one person may be easily managed by another. For instance, in the examples from our introduction of high risk career fields, many military service members, police officers, or firefighters can have very similar experiences, but not all of these individuals will develop PTSD. Anyone can develop PTSD following an event they perceive as traumatic. This condition does not just impact people with high risk jobs or who engage in high risk behaviors in their personal life. In fact, one of the most common causes of PTSD is the loss of a loved one.

How Do I Know if I Have PTSD?

You may be struggling with PTSD if you have experienced a traumatic event(s) and you notice any of the following symptoms:

· Reliving the event – sometimes referred to as re-experiencing or flashbacks, reliving is the most common symptom of PTSD. Sometimes this experience of reliving the event happens when awake. Other times, individuals may have repeated nightmares about the event.

· Intrusive thoughts and feelings – disturbing or distressing thoughts, images, and sensations may occur. These thoughts and feelings may be directly related to the traumatic experience or just disturbing or distressing in general.

· Physical symptoms – unexplained aches and pains, sweating, shaking or trembling, nausea or sickness, increased heart rate, chest pain, headaches, difficulty focusing eyes or seeing clearly, and other physical changes may occur as a result of being exposed to a PTSD trigger.

· Hyperawareness – the person may be constantly safety planning, checking for potential sources of danger, or otherwise feel on high alert.

· Substance use – avoiding intense feelings or troubling thoughts through numbing with alcohol, drugs, and other addictions is common among individuals who struggle with PTSD.

· Increased risk for cooccurring mood disorders – individuals diagnosed with PTSD are at much higher risk for depression, general anxiety, self-harming, and suicidal ideation.

· Relationship struggles – individuals managing PTSD may have a tough time maintaining romantic, familial, personal, and professional relationships.

How Do Fireworks Relate to PTSD?

People who struggle with PTSD may have a difficult time with the sights, sounds, and sensations associated with fireworks. For those whose PTSD is linked to high risk careers or person interests, the connection may seem obvious, but fireworks can actually be a trigger for people coping with PTSD with any underlying cause. Those who are experiencing hyperawareness or frequently reliving the traumatic event are at especially high risk for experiencing PTSD symptoms during fireworks. The loud noises, smell of smoke, and flashing lights can stimulate parts of the brain that are working hard to cope with and process traumatic experiences.

How Do I Manage PTSD Symptoms During Fireworks?

For many, the best option may seem to be simply staying home or. However, you may not always be able to avoid fireworks. In some cases, fireworks m happen close to your home or office and not be avoidable. This time of year, there may also be fireworks at unexpected times and places that you can’t plan to avoid. Additionally, avoidant behaviors (wearing ear plugs, skipping social gatherings, turning up music or TV to cover the noise of fireworks) can actually trigger a PTSD response. For instance, people who are hyperalert or on edge may feel more anxious wearing ear plugs because they’re unable to hear what’s going on around them. Whether you want to be able to overcome a response and enjoy fireworks or you want tips for managing your response if an unavoidable situation arises, consider the following tips:

· Create a mantra – repeating a simple mantra to yourself like, “I am safe” or “It’s only a firework,” can be beneficial to ground you in the present and minimize risk for reliving or flashbacks from happening.

· Physically ground yourself – create physical sensation to remind your body where you are. Press your back against a wall. Put your hands together. Any sensation that will remind you to focus on where you are in the present moment will work.

· Consider investing in a weighted blanket – applying pressure to the body relaxes the nervous system and alleviates PTSD response.

· Develop a breathing practice – one of the simplest breathing practices to learn involves slowly counting to five as you inhale. Then, holding your breath as you count to five. Finally, counting to five as you exhale. This helps to ensure you avoid taking shallow breaths, which can increase anxiety. Additionally, the deep breaths are soothing to the body in generally, and they can help you to focus on the present moment.

Bonus Tip – Talk to a Professional

Processing traumatic experiences and healing from the effects of these events can be a lengthy process. Whether you’ve struggled with PTSD for years or it’s a recent development, the knowledgeable team members at Lotus Psychology Group are here to offer support. If you want to learn more about the benefits of therapy as part of PTSD healing and recovery, please reach out to our office by calling (248) 957-8973, emailing info@lotuspsychgroup.com, or completing our online scheduling request form.

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