It’s almost that time of the year again, the 4th of July, when we celebrate American independence with festivities, parades, music, food, dancing, and fireworks.
Independence Day and 4th of July fireworks are part of American tradition, but for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the fireworks can trigger distress.
Everyone knows the date and the time of the day for the fireworks, so a known enemy shouldn’t be that difficult to handle, but that’s not always the case; neighbors and happy strangers can set off fireworks when you are least prepared and these sights or sound can trigger PTSD.
To that end, veterans who struggle with PTSD and fireworks noises due to their association with times of war need tips on how to manage PTSD symptoms. After all, America owes its freedom and way of life to these veterans who work hard to protect them.
Let’s look at how fireworks and PTSD relate and how you can deal with them as we approach D-day.
First off, the connection.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is an overused term, especially on social media, but for the veterans who suffer real-life consequences, it’s not a fancy tag; it’s a painful reality.
PTSD is a mental health problem that develops after a person experiences a life-threatening or traumatic situation. The experience leaves such an impression on them that they cannot go about their normal lives, leading to disruption and psychological distress.
It is normal to have stress reactions to upsetting events. These reactions may make a person feel on edge and unable to carry out their daily activities.
Many people who experience PTSD start to feel better after a few weeks or months, but for some, it may take longer, and they may need professional help.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Before we talk about the symptoms of PTSD, note that people experience this trauma in different ways. For some, the symptoms start soon after the traumatic event, while others may not experience symptoms until much later, even up to years later.
Also, almost everyone has experienced psychological distress, but that does not mean it is PTSD. If the symptoms last more than four weeks and cause great psychological distress such that it interferes with normal activities, then it is likely PTSD.
There are four broad categories of PTSD symptoms, they are:
Reliving the Event
This involves vivid memories of the event that may result in a wild panic because you cannot distinguish reality from memory.
Indicators of reliving the event include:
- Triggers like sight and sounds
In this case, you may have situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event.
For veterans, examples of avoidance include:
- Avoiding fireworks because it reminds them of the sound and sights of war
- Avoiding large crowds because it feels unsafe
- A veteran who experienced an accident or a car bomb while on duty may avoid driving
This is a situation in which you feel on edge, jittery, and always on the lookout for danger, even when you’re in safe environments. You may notice that you get suddenly irritable and angry.
Hyperarousal may manifest in any of the following ways:
- Trouble sleeping
- Unhealthy habits like excessive drinking, drug abuse, dangerous driving, and smoking
- Difficulty concentrating
You may find that the event affected you so much that you begin to have more negative thoughts than before. You may develop a cynical and pessimistic outlook in your interaction with others.
- A feeling that the world is dangerous and you can’t trust anybody
- Feeling guilt or shame at the event
- Numbness, unable to interact with people
- Being unable to talk about the traumatic event or forget about it completely
The Connection Between PTSD and Fireworks
4th of July fireworks displays often involve loud noises, bright flashes, and unpredictable explosions, resembling the chaotic and intense environments veterans may have encountered during their military service.
For veterans with PTSD, these sensory stimuli can trigger distressing memories, anxiety, hypervigilance, and other associated symptoms.
Annie Tang, a staff psychologist at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, said, “As beautiful as they are, the sounds, smells, and shockwaves of fireworks can be triggering for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. These can bring up emotional and physiological reactions and trauma memories from the past, which can bring up intense anxiety and fear.”
Take the example of Solis, a retired marine who doesn’t like celebrating the 4th of July.
According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, Solis, a veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, said, “I’m very honored by the intent, but it’s the celebration behind it – the fireworks, the large crowds – that’s a bit much for me.”
Tang’s Professional Tips for Managing PTSD Symptoms
For veterans, their friends, and families, finding ways to cope with the PTSD linked to the 4th of July fireworks is essential.
Tang has treated Veterans at Hines VA since 2013 and has the following five recommendations for managing PTSD symptoms:
- Avoid Avoidance: Don’t ignore your triggers; confront them and understand how they affect you. Avoidance can be a short-term fix, but it’s not a sustainable strategy for managing PTSD symptoms because the problems you avoid will only worsen with time. Confronting these issues is not easy, so some Veterans may need help from a mental health professional.
- Remind Yourself Where You Are and What is Happening Around You: Constantly remind yourself that even though it smells and sounds like war, it’s a celebration, not war. Repeat simple reminders, like ‘This is not a combat zone’ and ‘These are only fireworks’ to help you remain grounded.
- Change the Body’s Temperature: You can calm yourself and cope with the distress of the 4th of July fireworks by lowering your body temperature. A cold shower, an ice pack, ice cubes, frozen vegetable packs, or a splash of cold water can help.
- Schedule Meaningful Activities You Enjoy: It’s a time for celebration, and you don’t have to be left out. You can schedule activities like meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises.
- Prioritize Your Mental Health and Seek Treatment: Don’t ignore your mental health; you may need professional help. Veteran Affairs offers support and care through evidence-based treatments for PTSD, stress, and anxiety. They also offer the PTSD Coach Mobile App that provides information and coping skills to help manage anxiety or distress.
More Tips on How to Manage PTSD Symptoms
In addition to Tang’s professional tips, here are other ways veterans can cope with the 4th of July fireworks.
Understand Your Triggers
Understanding your triggers is the first step on the list of how to manage PTSD symptoms linked to the 4th of July fireworks. Recognize what specific aspects of fireworks displays trigger your symptoms.
It could be the loud noise, bright lights, or a combination of factors. If you understand your triggers, you’ll be able to prepare and cope.
Seek Support from Fellow Veterans
If you’re a veteran managing PTSD symptoms, you’re likely to find the 4th of July fireworks difficult because of the link between PTSD and fireworks, but you’re not alone.
Connecting with other veterans who are also managing PTSD symptoms can provide a valuable support network.
It’s easier to deal with fireworks and PTSD symptoms when you share thoughts and emotions with individuals who understand the issue.
Contact veteran organizations, support groups, or online communities to discuss your fears about the 4th of July fireworks.
Educate Family and Friends
4th of July fireworks are a long-standing American tradition; your friends and families will surely join in the fun. Communicate your feelings and concerns to your loved ones and help them understand the link between fireworks and PTSD.
Ask for their understanding and support as they enjoy their 4th of July fireworks.
Raising awareness can foster a more empathetic and accommodating environment and help with managing PTSD symptoms.
Plan Alternative Activities
One important tool on our list of how to manage PTSD symptoms is substituting activities. While 4th of July fireworks are a normal activity for the holiday, you don’t have to participate.
Instead of attending fireworks displays, consider participating in alternative activities that don’t trigger your PTSD.
If you’re managing PTSD symptoms, engage in activities that promote mindfulness, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. You can find other veterans who also struggle with the 4th of July and PTSD and plan celebrations that don’t involve fireworks.
Create a Safe and Calming Environment
Another great tool on our list of how to manage PTSD symptoms is prepping your environment to soothe your mind.
If you prefer to stay home during fireworks events, prepare your living space to have a calming ambiance that helps you relax. You can play calming music, use noise-canceling headphones, or utilize white noise machines to reduce the impact of PTSD and fireworks.
Another way to create a soothing environment to manage the 4th of July and PTSD symptoms is to dim the lights; this can create a cozy, relaxing atmosphere.
Explore Therapy Options
When managing PTSD symptoms, seeking professional help from a therapist experienced in working with veterans can be highly beneficial. These professionals are not your regular therapists; they specialize in working with veterans suffering from the psychological effects of their job.
They understand the links between the 4th of July and PTSD better, and this knowledge is crucial to managing PTSD symptoms.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or exposure therapy may help alleviate distress linked to fireworks and PTSD.
A therapist can work with you to develop personalized coping strategies for managing 4th of July fireworks PTSD.
What PTSD Treatments are Available?
If you’re a veteran suffering from PTSD or have a friend or family member who can’t stand the 4th of July fireworks because of PTSD, several treatments are available.
Psychotherapy for PTSD
The most recommended form of PTSD treatment is psychotherapy, which comes in any of the following forms:
- Prolonged Exposure (PE): With PE, you repeatedly discuss your trauma until the memories no longer cause distress. It’s about confronting your trauma to gain control over how you think and feel about it. You also engage in safe, everyday activities you have avoided because they trigger a traumatic response. PE sessions typically last 8-15 weeks, about three months of treatment. Each session lasts 1hr30mins, and you may begin to feel better after a few sessions.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): Basically, PTSD is how you feel and think about a traumatic event; cognitive processing therapy aims to change how you process your thoughts and feelings towards these events. CPT usually lasts for 12 sessions, and the American Psychological Association states that CPT is effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This PTSD treatment involves the combination of movements and sounds to help you overcome traumatic responses to triggers. You will pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while you recall the traumatic event until your mind changes how it processes it.
Medication for PTSD
Certain medications can effectively treat PTSD, but we do not recommend self-medication; see a doctor first. Qualified therapists will assess your condition and determine what medication suits your PTSD needs.
It’s not enough for you to try medication just because someone else said it worked for them. You could do yourself more harm than good if you self-medicate for PTSD.
Can Veterans Use Marijuana for PTSD?
Medical marijuana has grown in popularity thanks to a wave of legalization measures in different states. Some states have PTSD on the list of qualifying conditions, so veterans can apply depending on state law.
The Department of Veteran Affairs states that the endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in PTSD, and sufferers have a greater availability of CB1 receptors. Marijuana binds to these receptors producing short-term relief for symptoms of PTSD.
However, you must note that while some veterans report that marijuana helps them deal with the symptoms of PTSD, there’s no concrete scientific evidence that marijuana alleviates symptoms of PTSD. It’s best to speak with your doctor before starting marijuana therapy for PTSD.
Managing Mental Health Symptoms With Craft Medical
Remember, each individual’s experience is unique, and finding the strategies that work best for you is important. Be patient and kind to yourself as you navigate through these challenges, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support when needed.
Craft Medical specializes in men’s health, and our team of trained and qualified professionals is ready and willing to attend to your health needs. While we don’t specialize in PTSD specifically, we may be able to give you the support you need to get your healing journey started.