Independence Day in the United States is often celebrated with family picnics, parties, and fireworks. Scheduled fireworks displays are not necessarily a problem for veterans suffering from PTSD, but private and often illegal fireworks in the neighborhoods surrounding our veterans can cause flashbacks and anxiety as they relive bombs, gunfire, and explosions from their previous deployment.
This year may be a more pressing issue for veteran PTSD because many commercial fireworks displays have been canceled due to COVID-19. The unfortunate side effect of this is that many citizens are buying more potent fireworks to have their displays without considering the effects on their neighbors.
In 2017 a non-profit group named Military with PTSD began offering yard signs that read “Combat Veteran Lives Here — Please Be Courteous With Fireworks.” Although thousands of these signs have been distributed there is still a general lack of awareness of the effect fireworks can have on veterans.
Here are a couple of things that veterans or their loved ones can do to help:
Contact your neighbors
If you are a veteran and feel comfortable doing so, contact your neighbors and ask them to let you know when they plan to use fireworks. The knowledge that fireworks may be going off can help reduce anxiety. If you are not comfortable discussing this with neighbors, ask a family member or friend to help.
Perform some self-care techniques
Play soft music, look at photographs of pleasant family events, or use incense or essential oils with scents designed to reduce stress.
Reduce the noise level
Inexpensive foam earplugs can help reduce the sharp sounds of nearby fireworks. If you can afford it, invest in noise-reducing headphones. The headphones will allow you to listen to an audiobook, nature sounds, or calming music.
Darken your bedroom or living area
If the bright flashes from fireworks trigger a negative response, try room-darkening shades or curtains or sleeping with eyeshades to block the light.
Accept that your reactions are normal
Tell yourself there is no need to be embarrassed about your reactions. People not suffering from PTSD are often startled by loud noises; it is normal and nothing that should make you feel self-conscious.
Go somewhere quiet if you can
This may not be possible with the current COVID-19 crisis, but if you can go somewhere in a more rural area, or visit family away from the noisy city and fireworks, it may reduce your anxiety.
Practice grounding techniques
Sitting against a hard wall with your feet firmly on the floor will help reassure you that you are in a safe place. Put on your favorite clothes that give you comfort. Practice slow breathing techniques. Remind yourself that you are safe in your home and the noise and lights are not directed at you.
Operation Rubix helps our local Sarasota-area veterans by offering a range of mental, physical, and legal services through our network of providers. For more information please call 941-777-8387.