From sparklers to the famous Macy’s show over the East River, fireworks are synonymous with the 4th of July. However, the lights, sounds and explosions that have crowds oohing and ahhing in delight can have the opposite effect for those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including combat veterans.
"People with PTSD often experience anxiety and are easy to startle, so random fireworks going off can be a trigger," said David Neale, behavioral health clinical lead at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center.
The Eugene City Council recently voted to restrict fireworks use for the holiday to July 3 and July 4. In Cottage Grove, however, there is no ordinance governing the use of fireworks by the public other than prohibiting them from being set off in city parks.
“If you can expect something is happening, you can prepare for it,” Neale said. “It’s the explosions in the middle of the night or three days after the 4th of July that can be unnerving. When it comes sporadically for a week long, that’s, I would imagine, a bit more unnerving.”
Veterans and those with PTSD can take steps to limit their symptoms which could include heightened startle responses, anxiety, hyper-vigilance and flashbacks. According to Neale, ear plugs and darkening the room can be helpful as well as preparing emotionally, employing white noise, using positive distractions and spending time with family and friends.
“Remind yourself these are fireworks, it’s not a life-threatening situation,” he said.
Speaking to the juxtaposition of the patriotic holiday and the effects of fireworks for some combat veterans, Neale said, “As Americans, we celebrate our veterans every day and so for a veteran it is can be just fine to remain at home and celebrate our freedom another day.”
For more information on how to handle PTSD on the 4th of July, visit peacehealth.org/healthy-you/how-manage-ptsd-4th-july.