Firework Night – A Potential Trigger for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What is PTSD and how can it affect you?
Firework night, also known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night, is a traditional celebration observed in various
countries around the world. While it is often associated with joy, excitement, and dazzling displays of lights, it is
important to recognise that for some people, this event can be a trigger for PTSD.
Of course, it is not just firework night that can be a trigger for PTSD.
There are many situations and events that can evoke a strong reaction for any individual struggling with the
effects of PTSD.
I will explore some of these here, and look at coping strategies as well as signpost ways of getting the right
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Trauma can vary widely, including but not limited to, combat exposure, physical or sexual assault, accidents, natural disasters, or even witnessing violence. Individuals with PTSD often experience intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and intense emotional or physical reactions when reminded of the traumatic event. It is important to note that trauma is a subjective experience and what may be traumatic for one person, may not be for another. Trauma isn’t always caused by big traumatic events in someone’s life. Any event that causes an intense emotional reaction within someone has the potential to leave behind a trauma response that can affect that individual later in life.
There are various triggers that can cause symptoms of PTSD in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. Some common triggers include:
- Similar situations or environments: Being in a situation or environment that reminds the person of the traumatic event can trigger PTSD symptoms. For example, a combat veteran may experience symptoms when hearing loud noises or being in crowded places.
- Sensory stimuli: Certain smells, sounds, tastes, or textures that were present during the traumatic event can trigger memories and flashbacks. For instance, the smell of smoke may trigger symptoms in someone who has survived a fire.
- Visual cues: Seeing something that resembles or reminds the person of the traumatic event can trigger PTSD symptoms. This could include objects, people, or even specific colours or patterns.
- Emotional triggers: Emotions such as fear, anger, or sadness can act as triggers for PTSD symptoms. These emotions may be triggered by specific situations, conversations, or even certain thoughts or memories.
- Anniversaries or reminders: Dates or anniversaries associated with the traumatic event can act as triggers. For example, a survivor of a car accident may experience symptoms around the anniversary of the accident.
- News or media coverage: News reports or media coverage of similar traumatic events can trigger symptoms in individuals with PTSD. This can be particularly relevant for individuals who have experienced a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other widely publicised traumatic events.
It is also important to note here that triggers can vary from person to person, and what may trigger symptoms for one individual may not affect another. Additionally, triggers can change over time as individuals work through their trauma and engage in therapy or other forms of treatment.
Firework Night as a Trigger
Firework displays, with their sudden loud noises, bright lights, and unpredictable nature, can inadvertently remind individuals with PTSD of the traumatic events they have experienced. For example, veterans who have been exposed to combat may associate the sound of fireworks with gunfire or explosions, triggering distressing memories and emotions. Similarly, survivors of accidents or natural disasters may find the loud noises and sudden bursts of light reminiscent of the chaos and fear they experienced during those events.
Manifestations of PTSD on firework night
Some common manifestations of PTSD triggered by fireworks include:
- Hyperarousal: Individuals may experience heightened anxiety, irritability, or hypervigilance during firework displays. They may constantly scan their surroundings for potential threats, feel on edge, or have difficulty sleeping.
- Avoidance: People with PTSD may actively avoid situations or places associated with fireworks, such as public gatherings or outdoor events. They may isolate themselves or seek refuge in quieter environments to minimize their exposure to triggers.
- Re-experiencing: Flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts related to the traumatic event can resurface during firework displays. These distressing memories can be overwhelming and make individuals feel as if they are reliving the traumatic event.
- Emotional and physical reactions: PTSD can lead to intense emotional and physical reactions when exposed to triggers. Fireworks may cause panic attacks, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, or feelings of detachment from reality.
Ways of coping during fireworks night
- Choice: remember that ultimately you have the choice whether to attend a firework display and only you can make the right decision for yourself in order to ensure that you feel safe.
- Communicate: speak to friends and family about how you feel and discuss ways that could help you cope.
- Distance: if you would like to be able to be involved with family events, are you able to watch a display from a distance or from a car where noise will be minimised?
- Noise cancelling headphones: these can help to reduce the impact of noise of fireworks.
- Essential oils and soothing music: if you are at home and the sounds are too much to bear, create a space for calm – your favourite music to relax to, essential oils such as lavender, sandalwood and sage which are considered effective to help bring calmness.
- Breathing – use your breath to calm your body. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth in a consistent and controlled manner.
- Fact and opinion – try to combat your thoughts by looking at the facts and opinions of the situation. Your brain thinks that you are still in the traumatic event when it reacts in the here and now. Try to encourage facts into the present by telling yourself that you are safe at home and the noise is fireworks, nothing else than colourful sparks in the sky. This takes practice but could form a mantra whilst you are controlling your breathing.
Coping Strategies and Support for PTSD
If you or someone you know experiences PTSD, it is essential to seek support and implement coping strategies. Here are a few suggestions:
- Communication: Openly discuss your concerns with friends, family, or mental health professionals. Sharing your experiences can help others understand and provide necessary support.
- Professional help: If symptoms persist or significantly impact daily life, seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor specialising in trauma and PTSD is crucial.
- Relaxation techniques: Practice deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engage in activities that promote relaxation to manage anxiety and stress during firework displays. A trauma informed therapist will help you to ensure that your nervous system is stable, encouraging relaxation techniques, before working on the traumatic event itself.
- Exposure therapy: Gradual exposure to elements of the traumatic event, under the guidance of a mental health professional, can help desensitise individuals to the triggers over time.
- BWRT: Brain Working Recursive Therapy is a highly effective therapy for PTSD. It works with your brains natural processes and helps to minimise or remove the emotion attached to a traumatic event so that is no longer causes an emotional reaction in the future. It does this by interrupting response patterns in the primal part of your brain before they reach conscious awareness.
- EMDR: Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing is also a highly effective treatment for PTSD. It works directly on the memory and helps to change the way that the memory is stored in your brain, therefore changing the responses that you experience.
- Other techniques that can help alleviate the effects of PTSD are Hypnotherapy, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Havening Technique to name a few.
I hope that this article has been informative and has provided insight into PTSD and how it can affect individuals. I also hope that it has given important information on how to manage the effects of PTSD in the moment, whilst providing information for subsequent treatment of PTSD.