Fireworks and PTSD

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This weekend, many of us will celebrate Independence Day. We’ll have barbeques, spend time on the water and some of us will enjoy fireworks after the sun goes down. While fireworks can be beautiful and exciting for many, for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fireworks season can be a very difficult time.

PTSD is a mental health condition caused by traumatic events that have a long-term impact on a person’s life, such as gun violence, a life-threatening accident, an assault or serving in the military. Symptoms can include flashbacks; recurring memories or dreams; avoiding thoughts, places or feelings related to the traumatic event; being easily startled; feeling tense or on edge; negative emotions and thoughts about themselves or the world; and feeling socially isolated. 

Fireworks can affect someone with PTSD because they are unpredictable. Individuals with PTSD are highly alert to any noise, movement or change that could signal danger. The noise of fireworks exploding can cause an involuntary response including flashbacks, panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking or other emotional symptoms. 

It is important we don’t forget about people with PTSD during fireworks season. If you plan on setting off fireworks, here are some things you can do to be considerate to those with PTSD:
Let others know when and where you plan on setting off your fireworks, then stick to the schedule.
Consider using low noise or silent fireworks. They offer a nice, colorful display well below the decibels of typically loud fireworks.
Go to an organized, scheduled fireworks display in your community instead of setting them off yourself.

If you have PTSD, here are some things you can do to reduce the stress associated with them:
If the fireworks are scheduled, know what time they start and end. This will help you to be prepared.
Use background noise, music or earplugs to reduce the intensity of the noise.
Be with family or friends who will help support and distract you.
Practice coping strategies that make you feel grounded, supported and safe. For example, using breathing techniques, repeating sayings like, “I am at home. This is a safe place. I am not in danger,” or wrapping yourself in a favorite blanket can help.

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD and need help managing your symptoms, talk with your therapist, psychiatrist or primary care physician. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD has developed mobile apps, such as PTSD Coach and Mindfulness Coach, that can provide self-help and support. 

If you are struggling and want confidential help, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or if you experience suicidal thoughts along with your PTSD symptoms, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.