BEWARE: 4th of July Fireworks, Veterans, and PTSD

Jun 30, 2023 at 10:32 am by WGNS

(MURFREESBORO) As we head into the Fourth of July holiday, our PTSD Clinic at VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System wanted to share resources and tips to help reduce anxiety and triggers in Veterans and those around them. Please see the below tips and video. Reach out to me if you’d like further information or wish to speak to our PTSD experts.

For Veterans with PTSD, there are ways to reduce the anxiety with fireworks:

  1. Should I attend? The most important piece when answering this question is that there is no wrong answer. It is your decision!
  2. Preparing ahead of time is key: Know where the event will be held  as well as the timing of events. Anticipate possible reactions and have go-to coping strategies (for example, deep breathing or grounding techniques to re-orient to the present moment). Examples:
    • Breathing: A simple and effective technique involves taking a slow breath in through the nose, exhaling slowly through the mouth, and then holding for a count of 4. Repeat these three steps for 5-10 minutes to de-escalate feelings of anxiety and panic.
    • Grounding: use these techniques to help you re-orient and refocus to the present moment.   
      • Applying a light amount of pressure to certain body parts can be very helpful in refocusing your thoughts, feelings, and anxiety. Common pressure points include the fold of skin between your thumb and index finger, the muscle above your collar bone, or even your ear lobe.
      • A second technique is called “room or environment scan” – with this approach, simply take note of all the visible objects around you and call them out by name (“I see a painting on the wall, the fireplace, there is a plate and cup on the dining room table”; if outside, “I see lawn chairs where my wife and kids are sitting, there is a picnic table with food and drinks”).
  3. Plan an exit strategy: Plan ahead of time what to do if you decide to leave. Have trusted and supportive friends and family in place, especially those who are understanding and will not be judgmental or critical, since these experiences can lead to feelings of embarrassment when they occur in front of others.

Neighbors and friends can help by being aware that for some, fireworks may cause stress. Reach out to let veterans in your neighborhoods and communities know your plans so they can prepare (i.e., what time fireworks will start, where they will be located). Our strongest recommendation is to start the conversation. The goal is not to stop the fireworks and fun, but rather to allow those who are impacted the time and space they need to prepare.

Lastly, if you or someone you know has a strong reaction to fireworks or other PTSD triggers, these reactions are treatable. PTSD treatment works and can greatly reduce strong reactions and triggers. Talk to your TVHS team about a referral to the PTSD Clinic.

PTSD + Fourth of July video:

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