3 Ways Bonfire Night Causes Distress to Trauma Survivors
While Bonfire Night is a day full of celebrations, it can be very triggering for survivors of trauma. Bonfires, fireworks, and crowds of people can be overwhelming and cause distress to people who have experienced trauma. Not to mention that Guy Fawkes masks are terrifying. It's not soothing to someone who's already experienced trauma to see people walking around in a scary mask and then burning them.
Bonfire Night is a time of celebration, but it can easily turn into a difficult night for people who have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Fireworks can remind war veterans of explosions and those who have PTSD can be triggered by fireworks. People who fear crowds anticipate a difficult night with loads of people out celebrating and making a lot of noise.
We've put together a small list of ways that Bonfire Night can be difficult for trauma survivors. We've also created a guide for how to help your friends and family with Bonfire Night PTSD.
3 Ways Bonfire Night Causes Distress to Trauma Survivors:
1. PTSD Triggered by Fireworks
Fireworks can remind war veterans of explosions, both in sound and smell. Because it's a known holiday that celebrates fires and fireworks, some veterans may try to find a quiet place to be to manage their distress triggered by fireworks.
Some people with PTSD triggered by fireworks choose to attend organised events so that they can be present and see the fireworks for what they are - a beautiful display of lights and colour marking a celebration that's centuries-old.
One way to deal with Bonfire Night trauma is by something called opposite action. This is a skill used in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) that involves a person doing the exact opposite of what their emotions tell them to do. Veterans who choose to attend organised firework displays are practising opposite action, which might help them overcome their fears.
It's not just fireworks that can be triggering for war veterans, and it's not just war veterans that can be triggered by fireworks. Some people who've experienced gun violence can also have PTSD triggered by fireworks. The loud noises and the smells of the fireworks can cause trauma responses and distress to those who have witnessed or experienced gun violence.
The slogan of Guy Fawkes Day includes the words "remember, remember" which can be a trigger for people who want to forget the trauma they experienced. There can be a big difference between the despair that veterans feel on a night filled with fireworks that smell and sound like explosions and the celebratory attitude of the rest of the country.
One of the problems with Bonfire Night is that many people celebrate it all week long, setting off fireworks of their own that go beyond organised displays. This can be traumatic for people who have PTSD triggered by fireworks because it could literally happen anytime, anywhere.
2. Crowds of People
Guy Fawkes Day celebrations such as Bonfire Night can be hard for people who have an aversion to large crowds. The Guy Fawkes masks themselves are scary to look at and it can be terrifying for people who witness strangers walking around wearing and burning the masks.
If someone has had a traumatic experience at a large gathering, like a concert where there was an attack, it can be overwhelming to be around so many people in a loud environment with fires and celebrations. A night that should be celebratory can become a nightmare to some.
Many people who struggle with crowds avoid celebrations like Bonfire Night because of their trauma. It can also be difficult on someone's mental health to have to stay inside on November 5th every year due to PTSD. Some people will venture out anyway but may have flashbacks or panic attacks while out and experience Bonfire Night trauma.
3. Bonfires as Trauma Triggers
For people who have witnessed or experienced a fire of some kind, the smell of a bunch of bonfires could cause unwanted flashbacks.
Maybe someone lost their house to a fire or were a survivor of a bombing with explosions and fire. The smell and sight of so many fires could trigger Bonfire Night trauma.
Fires aren't always comforting, especially in a setting like Bonfire Night where there are crowds of people surrounding fires all over the place. The smells of plastic Guy Fawkes masks burning aren't pleasant and can remind people who've experienced fire-related trauma of their past experiences.
What You Can Do to Help Someone With Bonfire Night Trauma
Make a plan. If you go with someone with PTSD to a Bonfire Night event, have an escape plan ready. Don't go too far into the celebration or fireworks display in case you need to leave early.
Remind them that they are safe, that this is just a celebration and they're not in danger. Ground them by using breathing techniques such as taking deep breaths in with exhales that are longer than the inhales. You can also practice square breathing, which means that the person inhales for a count of four, holds their breath for a count of four, exhales for a count of four, and then holds their breath for a count of for. It's recommended to repeat this 3-5 times.
Be aware of their breathing and body language. If you notice them starting to panic, find a safe, quiet location to remove yourselves and go to. That might mean leaving the celebration altogether. Be prepared to leave. Don't make them feel bad if you need to leave and again, remind them that they're safe.
If they want to stay in instead of going to Bonfire Night celebrations and want company, help make the night enjoyable by watching a funny movie or playing games. If you are with them and unexpected fireworks go off, find ways to distract them from the noises by turning up the TV or turning fans on.
If none of that works, leave the house and go somewhere quiet. If you're out watching the fireworks with them, have an escape plan ready for if they get triggered and need to leave. Stay on the periphery of the crowd so you can easily leave.
Guy Fawkes Day has turned into a day of celebration with fire and explosions that are triggering to people who've experienced trauma. Bonfire Night trauma can be avoided by taking some simple steps and precautions in preparation for the event.
If you or someone you know has experienced trauma triggered by fires, large crowds, and fireworks, you don't have to be alone in your suffering. Contact us to set up a free consultation to see how trauma therapy at Taproot Psychology could be right for you.