This time of year there are firework displays in most villages, towns, and cities. It is especially hard for some Veterans and Service Personnel due to the whistles, bangs, bright lights, smoke, and noise that can sound like gunshots and explosions. This applies to anyone, let alone someone who has experienced first-hand the trauma that can result from being in a warzone where there may have been very similar lights and noise.
A ‘flashback’ is an extremely unpleasant experience – this is a memory of an event which is recalled involuntarily. It is so intense that the brain is unable to recognise it as a memory, not something which is happening in the here and now. The sights and sounds of fireworks can be a trigger for flashbacks so it is understandable why this time of year can provoke feelings of apprehension and anxiety for so many of the ‘blokes’ and their families.
What can be done to make things as easy as possible? As with most things, preparation is key. Every individual will have a unique experience of events so here are a few tips to try to help if you, or someone close to you, is anxious about fireworks. The majority of these techniques are known as “Grounding”. They are simple strategies to help keep someone focused on the present moment:
- Get some foam ear plugs. These can be bought from places like Halfords and are designed for motorcyclists. These take a few seconds to pop into your ears and block out a significant level of noise.
- Listen to your favourite music fairly loudly through headphones. This will also block out external noise.
- Think about a level of anxiety that you can manage, based on personal experience, and rate it from 0-10. If your “unmanageable” level is say 5 or 6, as soon as you feel you are close to this, begin to try to ‘ground’ yourself so that you can remain in the present…
- Focus on your breathing. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! Do not take deep breaths. Breathe easily, taking in a slightly shorter breath and breathing out a slightly longer breath. Try saying to yourself “One thousand” as you breathe in, “One thousand two hundred and fifty” as you breathe out.
- Think about your surroundings in as much detail as you can. Describe it, either in your mind or aloud: “I am standing in my lounge and I am safe. The walls are painted white and there are two pictures hanging on the wall behind me and I am safe. There are two windows in this room behind my grey curtains and I am safe…” Continue with other rooms too if you want to…
- Have a coping statement such as, “I can handle this, this feeling will pass”
- Run cool or warm water over your hands.
- Think of things you can do that will help you if your anxiety begins to climb towards the unmanageable number on your scale.
The final point which is so important to remember is to practice the techniques before you need them.
To find out more about accessing free and confidential support for psychological wellbeing, contact the Hidden Wounds team here.
For immediate and out of hours support, please call the Combat Stress helpline on: 0800 1381619.