PTSD Triggers: Dealing with Fireworks

Hello again!

Today we’re going to talk about specific coping skills for dealing with fireworks.

If you’re ever been in a position where loud noises mean bad stuff is going on, then you might react to the sound of fireworks, because your threat-response reflex has learned that loud bangs are a predictor of danger. (For more background on how reflex learns, read this previous post.)

If your survival reflex at one point learned that a sudden, loud bang means danger, the sound of fireworks will probably make your reflex react, even if the conscious, “smart” part of your brain realizes that it’s just fireworks.

So – what do you do?

Let’s start off with what NOT to do. Your worst bet is to just pretend like it’ll all be fine and do nothing to try to prepare yourself. That’s avoidance, and it doesn’t help. So – give yourself a pat on the back for being proactive and reading this to help yourself prepare.

We’ll talk about two parts: (1) what to do about your feelings; and (2) what to do about the noise.

(1) You might feel shame and anger at yourself for reacting. If you’ve read any of the previous posts – then I hope I’ve drummed into your head that fear is a reflex, and that you do not choose to feel fear. Fear is part of the reflex that responds to threats. It “learns” to respond to triggers based on what happened to you. You don’t have control over it, and blaming yourself for it makes as much sense as feeling guilty that your toenails grow – it just happens, you can’t control that. So – let’s work on getting rid of that shame and guilt, okay?

A more helpful approach is to accept that you’re going to react to triggers; you’ll be more prepared to cope if you expect to feel fear in response to triggers, and manage it when it happens.

If you hear fireworks, your reflex might be to hit the deck and keep your head down. If that noise had been enemy fire, your reaction might have saved your bacon. Respect your reaction for what it is – a survival reflex. You can help calm your fear by reminding yourself that feeling scared and being in danger are two separate things – your fear in this case is a false alarm, and you are safe.

(2) With fireworks in specific – you may actually find it much easier to cope if you look up and watch them. Seeing the show will make it easier to know where that noise is coming from. You can help to ground yourself by saying (or thinking), “These are fireworks. This is a celebration. I’m home, and I’m safe”.

If that’s not an option – on a holiday weekend when you can expect fireworks, finding ways to mask the noise may be your best bet. That might mean staying indoors, windows closed, playing your favourite music loud enough that noise from outside doesn’t filter in.

Please feel welcome to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.


*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

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3 thoughts on “PTSD Triggers: Dealing with Fireworks

  1. Hi Dr. Dee,

    I kept your post in mind during last weeks’ Canada celebrations, and during the July 4th celebrations in the US. I really like the point you mentioned that the person’s reflex/reaction to the fireworks is learned.

    I like that point because it means that the person’s response can also be unlearned. This gives hope to survivors of trauma, particularly those traumatized by experiences of war. It’s great to know that people can learn new responses over time. They can go back to enjoying celebrations without experiencing anxiety.

    Keep up the great work!

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