Posted on: July 10th, 2024

4th of July and PTSD in Military Members 

By: Erika Atkinson, LCSW

Independence Day

Independence Day, a day celebrated with patriotic music, festivals, parades, cookouts with family and friends, and most importantly ending with an amazing display of fireworks exploding into the night sky. Fourth of July is a time our country gets together to celebrate our country’s independence as a free nation and many associate memories of what they and their loved ones have been willing to sacrifice for their country. 

When we think about the Fourth of July, we are often met with thoughts of the American Flag, red, white, and blue decorations, patriotic signs reading, “Land of the Free, Because of the Brave”, and most importantly thoughts about the American Soldiers and the sacrifices they have made for America’s freedom. 

While this time is a joyful and fun filled day to others it’s a time of remembrance and flashbacks to combat Veterans. During this time many veterans and soldiers are burdened by past memories of combat. When interviewed, one soldier stated, “The view of the fireworks with the colors, sounds, and smoke automatically takes me back to Iraq and I can feel the rush of emotions”. 

Fireworks can be triggering for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the Fourth of July and other holidays. The sights, sounds, smells, and booms of fireworks can trigger emotional and physiological reactions such as flashbacks, anxiety, and panic attacks. PTSD is three times more likely among Veterans who deployed compared to those who did not. 

So with over 17 million Veterans and soldiers celebrating Independence Day, we often ask ourselves, how can we help a loved one with a history of trauma enjoy this amazing holiday? 

Here are a few ways to encourage your loved one or friend during a time of struggle. 

Plan ahead. Knowing if a place or neighbor is planning to have fireworks can help reduce anxiousness and may make it easier to handle them.

Education about PTSD. Identifying symptoms such as agitation, irritability, hostility, self destructive behavior, isolation, flashbacks, increase in anxiety, panic attacks, emotional detachment, depression, and thoughts of suicide. 

Mindfulness Exercises. While taking deep breaths and taking things slow are great ways to decrease intensity of symptoms, another great exercise is trying a 5 Senses Grounding Technique. You want to start with naming 5 things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise helps ground you to the here and now. 

Support. Helping your loved one enquire and find mental health resources in their community. Finding a specialized trauma therapist that helps individuals work through traumas utilizing trauma specific treatments such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). 

It is always important to seek care if you or someone you know are struggling with symptoms of PTSD. Contact Pillars of Wellness today to get matched with a therapist at (219) 323-3311.

If you or a Veteran you know needs immediate assistance please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 then Press 1 or text 838255.