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What People With PTSD Need From You This Fourth of July

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While not everyone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has the same triggers, for those who have a sensitivity to loud noise, holidays like the Fourth of July can be difficult, to say the least. With fireworks going off at events, barbecues and sometimes just randomly all across the nation, it can be hard to avoid the loud sudden crack even if you stay home.

• What is PTSD?

But people with PTSD or just noise sensitivity in general shouldn’t have to suffer through the holiday. To find out how to help, we asked people in our mental health community who have PTSD to tell us one thing they need, or one thing they do, on the Fourth of July to make the holiday more bearable. We wanted to compile their answers and provide some ideas for anyone who wants to be helpful to a friend of family member with PTSD this year.

Not everyone with PTSD will need the same thing, so make sure you talk to your loved one before making any assumptions. Or, for those with PTSD who are nervous for this holiday, these ideas might help you start the conversation. Please don’t be afraid to express your needs.

Here are some ideas for making The Fourth more inclusive for people with PTSD:

1. If you can, find out when the fireworks are, and let the person know.

Loud noises can be bad enough — loud noises without warning are even worse. If you’re at a public event, or hosting something at your home, let the person know ahead of time when the fireworks will be going off so they have time to prepare — or so they can leave early if necessary.

“Take this into account when taking me/inviting me to events where [you are] aware there are fireworks… Being able to be prepared (such as taking earmuffs or leaving the facility prior to) allows me to keep in control and take charge. I therefore don’t have to feel ashamed, like it’s a joke for others to watch my reaction to the noises.” — Keryn D.

“If I’m at a fireworks show and I know what time it starts, it’s not as bad. I get startled for a minute, but then I settle back down after telling myself, “It’s OK, I’m OK, I’m safe.” Plus looking at my kids’ smiles at the colors and seeing their amazement is very calming for me… But, when I’m sitting at home inside my house and fireworks go off outside I’m not expecting, it can really make me panic very easily. I’ve got to investigate what it is, where it’s coming from and confirm. Only then can I go back inside and distract myself by either music, movies or by talking to company/hubby/kids.” — Courtney N.

2. Establish a safe space.

Whether this is in the car (because you’re at the beach), or a room in a house at a barbecue, establishing a “safe place” where the person who has PTSD can go during the fireworks, means they can still be involved in the festivities, but know exactly where to go before the fireworks start or when they feel overwhelmed.

“Don’t have PTSD myself, but a few years ago there was a guest at our Fourth of July party and we knew it would trigger him, so we set up a little hideout downstairs (we had a finished basement) so we put on a good movie, cranked up the volume and checked on him periodically through the fireworks show.” — Karly E.

“I LOOOOOOVE building pillow forts with my friends! Cloth, cotton and other fabric absorbs the sound — human friends, furry friends — the right friends will be there for you! Trust me! They’re out there! You just have to be daring enough to find them.” — Stacey L.

3. Ear plugs, headphones and music.

If your loved one doesn’t want to or need to leave during the fireworks, wearing noise canceling headphones can be a great way to lessen the impact. Or even wearing regular headphones and blasting a favorite song can make the noises less jarring.

“I need to have ear plugs and I need my security blanket. Without those I’d be a total mess. That or I need my security blanket and headphones with music. Music is something that always soothes me and keeps me calm from things that may trigger other problems and issues.” — Cherokee N.

“I’d definitely say noise canceling headphones are a must. And, not just for people who [have] PTSD either.” — Susan E.

4. Celebrate in a different way.

If fireworks are tough for your friends, there are other ways to celebrate the Fourth of July! See a movie, go camping and get away from areas where you know there will be a lot of celebration. Ask your friend if there’s a different way you can celebrate.

“I don’t have PTSD, but fireworks still give me panic attacks. I go to the movie theater — the loud movie and thick walls drown out even the loudest fireworks.” — Jackie M.

“I’m staying home and watching the fireworks on TV. I can control the volume from my home!” — Rebecca G.

“[Find] someone who is willing to stay inside and watch a movie or do something distracting and calming with me.” — Kari L.

5. Don’t judge your friend’s decision to leave early, or shame him/her for reacting in a strong way.

Please, don’t judge how someone needs to celebrate. If they can’t show up, have to leave early or react strongly when the fireworks start, be understanding of their situation and let them know you’re there for them. That support could go a lot way.

“My family forces me to go to firework shows with them, but having someone there for me who knows what’s going through my mind helps a lot.” — Lillian H.

“If I’m with my husband, I know I’m safe. He helps me remember where I am and ‘when’ I am.” — Courtney H.

6. Be respectful of your neighbors.

If no one you know has PTSD, that doesn’t mean there’s not someone in your close vicinity who needs to know when fireworks will start. Letting your neighbors know when you are setting off fireworks (with a friendly note in their mailbox or flier in front of your house) could go a long way for someone who needs to know.

“Considerate neighbors. Advanced warning.” — Tania B.

What would you add?

Originally published: July 2, 2017
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