(Published in print June 28, 2023)
As we get ready to celebrate the 4th of July, most people are planning cookouts with family and friends, a day of fun at the pool, a corn hole tournament in the back yard, and, most likely, fireworks. Like most communities, Henderson will be celebrating the holiday with a community fireworks display. This may be a spectacular event with loud noises and lights for many people, but for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, this can be a distressing holiday.
PTSD affects approximately 7-8% of the general population and 11-20% of veterans. These individuals may be disturbed by the loud noises of a fireworks display, but they can plan ahead by knowing when it is scheduled. Many with PTSD are more likely to be affected by the unplanned fireworks in their neighborhoods or other unannounced displays. This can mimic the explosions during a deployment, bringing about memories associated with loss of life and imminent danger.
For others with non-military PTSD, loud noises may also bring about automatic responses of fear, hypervigilance, or panic. The sounds can also bring up vivid recollections of traumatic events, such as car accidents, causing irritability, anger outbursts, anxiety or avoidance. People with PTSD can also see large crowds as threatening.
To help make this holiday more pleasant, here are some tips for you or a loved one.
•Ask neighbors if they plan to have fireworks and when they plan to set them off so it is not a surprise.
•Set your own boundaries. If you are not comfortable going or want to leave, do that. Don’t feel forced to stay.
•Consider a long weekend away. If the holiday is too triggering, consider going away for the weekend where fireworks may not be occurring or where they can be enjoyed from a distance.
•Be understanding of someone’s anxiety about this day. Be patient if they feel more stressed than usual and offer support.
•Use blackout curtains or other ways to block the flashes of light from coming in through windows.
The goal is to have an enjoyable holiday in whatever way makes most sense. Try not to avoid things, but do things only as can be tolerated. Never push someone to “face the fear” if they are not able because this may be doing more harm than good.
Remember to have a self-care plan in order as well. For example:
•Practice breathing techniques to help lessen anxiety.
•Use earplugs if necessary. Try noise cancelling headphones with calming music or an audiobook to distract.
•Get a massage or plan for one the following day.
•Use progressive muscle relaxation meditations.
•Look through old photographs, listen to some music, or do crafts inside.
•Use your sense of taste and smell to ground to the here and now. Mint smells and strong tastes can be most helpful.
• Notice your reactions and find things that help soothe them. Reactions are not psychological weaknesses.
•Reach out for help if needed. There are plenty of resources for trauma work.
•Finds apps, such as PTSD Coach or Virtual Hope Box.
If you are struggling with PTSD or suicidal thoughts related to a PTSD episode, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24/7 assistance.
Jennifer Harwood, LCSW, LCAC is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Addictions Counselor, holding licenses in Kentucky and Indiana. She is an EMDR Therapist and works with trauma related disorders. Contact her on jenniferharwoodlcsw.com