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Trauma Reminders: Fireworks


Trauma Reminders: Fireworks

Fireworks can be a trauma reminder for those who served in combat or went through a fire, explosion or gun violence. Whether expected or unexpected, fireworks can cause distress. Learn tips to manage symptoms or host an event that is sensitive to those who are affected by fireworks.

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Photo of Rebecca Miller

“Fourth of July, especially .... [A]ny of the mortar type fireworks ... they'll send me back to 2003 [in Iraq].”

Rebecca Miller

U.S. Army

Fireworks and PTSD

Fireworks are used to celebrate many events, from holidays to music concerts and sports. Even though fireworks are meant to entertain us, it is not uncommon for the sounds, intense light or smells to cause distress. Those who have gone through a trauma that included explosions, gunfire, loud noises or fire may be more likely to find fireworks to be a reminder—a trigger or cue—of such past events.

There are certain times of year, like the 4th of July, when fireworks are common or expected. If fireworks bother you, the holiday or annual events may put you on edge as you await (or anticipate) the displays to happen. Other times, fireworks may be unexpected, going off on a random day or unusual location.

Fireworks are loud, with bright flashes of light, creating smoke and burning smells. There are often crowds gathered to watch displays, and loud music may be typical. Any of these sounds, sights or smells may serve as trauma reminders. For Veterans, fireworks may cue memories of combat or explosions; and certain military-related celebrations may also raise distress. For others, fireworks may be reminders of intense fires or gun violence.

Whether or not the fireworks were expected, you may know you are in a safe setting, but still feel cued (or "triggered") to react. Some examples of distress you may feel include:

  • Strong reactions to the sound of fireworks (or ceremonial gun or cannon fire)
  • Strong reactions to flashing lights common with fireworks
  • Feeling on edge or jittery
  • Feeling jumpy or easily startled by loud noises
  • Flashbacks, or feeling as if the traumatic event is happening again
  • Feeling numb or emotionally distant during celebrations
  • Feeling as if you can't control the situation or as if you are blindsided
  • Using alcohol or drugs to push away unwanted thoughts

Tips for Dealing With Fireworks

You can take steps to manage the impact of fireworks on your well—being. Reminding yourself that trauma reminders—sights, smells, sounds, settings--match a past event but are not a threat in your current context can get easier with planning and practice.

If you find that fireworks—or other trauma reminders—are very distressing and hard to manage, treatment can help. Learning to respond to trauma reminders, rather than react to them, can make a difference in your level of distress. You can learn to turn a "trigger"—a reminder that sets off an automatic reaction—into a "cue" that you respond to in a way that feels safe and healthy.

Tips for Dealing With Fireworks
Tips to manage expected fireworks
(like 4th of July)
  • It may feel more comfortable to avoid these events; this is a short-term fix that may worsen the problem over time
  • You may feel dread for specific dates or events each year; try to remind yourself of the present—what's happening around you right now rather than the past
  • For Veterans, focus on the meaning of military-related holidays that supports your self-care
  • Read about an event (or ask a host) to learn if fireworks will be part of a celebration and the timing of the display
  • Talk with someone close to you about your concerns and invite them along
  • Prior to the event, work on self-care—good sleep, breathing techniques, journaling, mindfulness, limiting alcohol—to be at your best
  • Choose activities that are healthy and safe for you
  • Consider bringing earplugs or headphones
  • Download a free mobile app like PTSD Coach to have with you
Tips to manage fireworks you did not expect (or in-the-moment cues)
  • Pause to remind yourself that you are safe, even if the memories create a sense of danger
  • Focus on skills and techniques to ground you in the present moment:
    • Try box breathing: 4 counts inhale, 4 counts hold, 4 counts exhale, 4 counts hold, repeat
    • Be mindful. Notice what you feel without judging or reacting, like eating a sour candy or spicy food and focusing on that sensation
    • Use the Mindfulness Coach mobile app
  • Remind yourself that this moment is temporary
  • Veterans might remind themselves that it took time to train themselves to be on alert to all threats, and it will take time to re-train themselves to not be on high alert when there is no threat
Consider working with a provider to identify trauma cues and learn skills to manage symptoms
  • Learn about which sights, sounds, smells or settings signal trauma reminders for you
  • Learn and practice coping skills, like ways to think differently about trauma cues, breathing techniques, etc.
  • Work with your provider to develop a list of feared but safe situations that you can gradually start to face
  • Work on identifying ways to remind yourself that the trauma is in the past and that you are safe in the present

Family and Friends: Plan Ahead

Supporting someone with a strong reaction to fireworks

If you know that fireworks are a trauma reminder for someone you care about, ask them about how you can best offer support. Your friend or family member will likely have ideas and tips that are best for them. There are also ways you can help in the moment if fireworks create sudden or unexpected reactions.

  • Ask the person if there is anything you can do
  • Offer words of support, like: "You are safe." "I am here with you, now."
  • Help the person remember the present environment: "You are at a [party, concert, etc.] and it is safe here."
  • Offer to do a breathing technique or mindfulness activity in the moment (see above)

Hosting an event with fireworks

If you are hosting an event that will include fireworks, you can take a few steps to support your guests who may be impacted by them. The tips below are useful for individuals or for community event planners.

  • Consider the meaning and value of using fireworks versus other alternatives, like sparklers or light shows
  • If possible, ask guests if fireworks are a difficult reminder
  • Notify guests ahead of time if fireworks are a part of the celebration
  • Set a specific time for (or announce the start of) fireworks so guests can plan for their own needs
  • Center activities around themes other than loud fireworks
  • Create space so that guests can be in small groups rather than a large crowd
  • Show compassion—you can choose the celebration you want and at the same time you can respect the decisions others make for self-care


Whether or not fireworks are expected, they can cause distress for those who experienced combat or went through a fire, explosion or gun violence. With planning and practice, you can learn skills to help you enjoy celebrations that include fireworks or manage distress if the fireworks are unexpected. If you have PTSD and find fireworks to be a difficult trauma reminder, a mental health provider can help you find ways to cope.

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Also see: VA Mental Health