While most of us associate fireworks with celebrations and joyful times, for people with certain mental health conditions, the experience of fireworks can be unpleasant. As we approach New Year’s Eve, fireworks celebrations will increase nationwide. What does this mean for mental health? Learn some answers here.
Noise-Related Implications of Fireworks
One recent study explored the effects of environmental sound levels associated with fireworks, and the results were telling. Community residents perceived fireworks as being indicative of danger, and for many, fireworks were a psychological trigger. This was especially true for veterans, people living in neighborhoods plagued by gun violence, and those who had been victims of gun violence. The study authors concluded that fireworks can have negative implications, including poor heart health and worsened mental health problems.
Fireworks & PTSD
It’s been established that fireworks can be a psychological trigger for some people, and individuals with PTSD may be especially at risk of negative outcomes from fireworks. PTSD symptoms include having an exaggerated startle response and being tense or on edge most of the time. This means that fireworks can be especially startling for people with PTSD symptoms.
Fireworks are an unexpected sound, and for someone who has PTSD and is easily startled, they can be quite anxiety-provoking. Someone with PTSD from war or gun-related violence may be especially distressed by fireworks because the sound can cause flashbacks to whatever incident led to the development of PTSD.
Beyond activating the startle response and leading to flashbacks, fireworks can create feelings of stress and disrupt sleep for people who have PTSD. Interrupted sleep can also lead to worsened mood and poor mental health functioning. Even if you don’t live with PTSD, late-night fireworks displays can keep you up later than planned and interfere with your sleep schedule.
How to Manage if Fireworks are a Trigger
If New Year’s Eve fireworks are a trigger for symptoms of PTSD, stress, or anxiety for you, there are steps you can take to protect your mental health. In many instances, unexpected fireworks have the worst impact on individuals who find fireworks to be triggering. When the fireworks display is unexpected, you’re more likely to be startled when it begins. That being said, it can be helpful to look at local event schedules, so you know when fireworks displays are planned. At the very least, you’ll be prepared when the commotion begins, or you can make a plan to stay safely at home that night.
Other strategies for managing New Year’s fireworks displays include:
- Telling close friends or family members about your triggers so they understand what you’re experiencing
- Choosing alternative ways to celebrate the New Year, such as renting a remote cabin away from all the hullabaloo.
- Simply declining invites to go out and observe local fireworks displays.
- Using healthy stress management strategies, such as exercising, practicing meditation, following a healthy diet, and making plenty of time for rest and relaxation
You may not be able to stop the New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, but you can take steps to care for yourself and manage your triggers, to reduce the chances of a negative reaction.
Respecting Those Triggered by Fireworks
Maybe you aren’t triggered by fireworks displays, but perhaps a loved one, or even a neighbor, struggles with PTSD symptoms at this time of year. Given that some people may find fireworks displays to be upsetting, it’s important to be respectful of the rights and needs of others during this time of year. Here are some steps you can take:
- If someone in your life shares that they find fireworks to be anxiety-provoking, take the time to listen to them and validate their experience. Do not try to talk them out of their fear or convince them that they can attend a fireworks display and be okay.
- Avoid setting off fireworks unexpectedly. You may think you’re just enjoying the holiday, but a neighbor who lives with PTSD may find the sudden noise to be disturbing. Your holiday fun may end up disrupting their sleep or inducing panic. If you’re considering setting off fireworks, ask your neighbors if this will create any sort of distress for them. At the very least, you can offer a warning, so they know to expect some noise.
- Respect the wishes of a friend or loved one who chooses not to attend a holiday celebration involving fireworks. You should never make them feel guilty for taking care of themselves by passing on the invite.
- If your loved one doesn’t want to be a part of the fireworks display, offer an alternative activity so they can still participate in holiday festivities. You might invite them to a potluck dinner before the fireworks, plan an afternoon hike on New Year’s Day, or stay in for a family game night.
The Bottom Line
Fireworks are often a part of holiday celebrations in the United States, and this tradition probably won’t change. However, for people who have anxiety or PTSD, fireworks can activate their startle response and lead to psychological distress. If you find fireworks to be upsetting, you have every right to care for yourself and opt out of the holiday fireworks display. Similarly, if you have a loved one triggered by fireworks, you can be supportive by planning an alternative family activity.
If fireworks and other holiday activities are increasing feelings of distress, you may benefit from reaching out for mental health treatment. In fact, 64% of people who have a mental health condition report that the holidays make their mental health worse, and “too much pressure” is a commonly-cited reason for worsening mental health. You may benefit from professional treatment, or if you’re already in treatment, you may need to amp up your services during the holiday season.
Mission Harbor Behavioral Health offers services in the Southern California area. We have office locations in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and we offer a range of outpatient services. Contact us today to learn more or to begin the admissions process.