As the nation comes together to celebrate the formation of our country, you should be mindful of how some parts of the holiday can trigger you if you have PTSD.
Fireworks, parades, and loud noises, for example, can all cause harm when recovering from trauma. There are, however, ways you can prepare for the upcoming holiday.
By understanding your triggers and knowing how to cope with them, you can be more prepared for this holiday and others like it.
Trauma and PTSD
Trauma is your natural response to moments of intense stress. Prime examples include experiencing war zones, natural disasters, or brutally violent attacks. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as an “emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Your reactions to trauma vary depending on the intensity of the situation. You might become enraged or experience intense levels of anxiety, while others go into shock. Trauma can cause long-term effects on your well-being. In many cases, symptoms persist so severely that the trauma has developed into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In their pamphlet on coping with trauma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define PTSD as an “intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders” of a traumatic event that lasts for “many weeks or months after the traumatic event.” They note that PTSD symptoms fall into three broad types, including:
Re-living: symptoms of re-living include flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme reactions, both emotional and physical, to reminders of traumatic events.
Avoidance: symptoms of avoidance include steering clear of “activities, places, thoughts, or feelings related to the trauma or feeling detached or estranged from others.”
Increased arousal: symptoms of increased arousal revolve around being extremely alert. You may become overly anxious, jumpy, and easy to startle.
There is also a high chance these symptoms will manifest through symptoms of co-occurring disorders like panic attacks, depression, or substance use disorders. Understanding your symptoms and being able to recognize potential triggers can help you cope with PTSD tremendously. It helps to create and maintain a daily routine, turn to your support network for help, participate in enjoyable activities, and – of course – be kind to yourself. Learning to cope with trauma and PTSD symptoms can mean all the difference in your ability to avoid severe setbacks in treatment, especially in situations where triggers may be present.
Understanding PTSD Triggers
PTSD symptoms may begin to fluctuate over time. You may find they flare up at specific times of the year or recognize that certain situations cause symptoms to spike. These things that intensify your symptoms are called triggers. According to the National Center for PTSD regarding triggers or trauma reminders, after exposure to a traumatic event, “places, people, sounds or smell could ‘trigger’ a memory of the event.”
There can be common triggers among soldiers and veterans. Loud noises, conversations related to war, or feeling physically threatened can cause intense symptoms. You may fall into a fit of rage and physical violence, or break down and go into shock. Without a doubt, learning to cope with these episodes is important. It is just as important to be proactive and recognize your triggers.
Some triggers are obvious, while others are difficult to recognize. Sometimes there is no way to know something is a trigger until you react to it. Having a set of effective coping tools is essential in those instances. Unfortunately, common triggers are often present on holidays like the Fourth of July. Loud noises, bright lights, crowds of people, and fireworks are all traumatic triggers. These are especially triggering if you have been exposed to gun violence, combat, and explosives. Once triggered, your environment could exacerbate your symptoms.
For example, if the sound of fireworks triggers you, being in a crowd may cause you to panic, have difficulty breathing, and cause symptoms to intensify or new symptoms to manifest. Now, knowing that Independence Day is quickly approaching allows you to prepare. There may still be instances where a trigger takes you by surprise. Preparing for triggers is not always enough.
How to Prepare for the Fourth of July
Aside from utilizing tools to cope with your PTSD symptoms, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of being exposed to triggers. While avoiding fireworks is difficult this time of year, you may consider staying away from firework shows or staying indoors at night. By not being in the thick of it, you can hopefully avoid any triggers a firework show may manifest.
You may also consider preparing by speaking with your support network about your concerns and making an extra appointment with your therapist. Expressing concerns with friends, family, and loved ones should motivate them to do what they can to help you. That might mean seeing a firework show from further away, or not going at all, and making other plans that you can attend comfortably.
You may be in a situation where you want to be able to face your triggers and not impede other people’s plans. If you are not yet equipped to handle those triggers, you put yourself at risk. Discuss this with a mental health professional. Breathing exercises, meditation, and other mindfulness practices can help you cope with these triggers. A mental health professional can offer more tools for you, as well.
Independence Day may be a hotspot for PTSD triggers, but they can manifest year-round. Reach out to Chateau Recovery today if you or a loved one is suffering from trauma and PTSD.