Ask the Psychiatrist: Fireworks’ Effect on Stress and Anxiety Are Often Overlooked

Fireworks displays are a big part of many Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve celebrations, thrilling crowds as they fill the sky with streaking rockets, jaw-dropping starbursts and ground-shaking booms. But those booms can present a problem – and not just for our four-legged friends, says a psychiatrist who specializes in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other emotional disorders.

Rachel Rohaidy, M.D., a psychiatrist with Baptist Health Primary Care

“Dogs aren’t the only ones who can become terrified by the sound of fireworks,” says Rachel Rohaidy, M.D., a psychiatrist with Baptist Health Primary Care who also serves as medical director of The Recovery Village at Baptist Health. “For some people with certain anxiety disorders or PTSD, loud noises and popping sounds may increase their anxiety and bring a lot of fear.”

Dr. Rohaidy acknowledges that this Fourth of July is special. “There’s always a lot of excitement as we look forward to gathering and celebrating with families, friends and our community – especially this year after more than two years of social isolation,” she says. But, she adds, there is also more anxiety and stress.

“Unfortunately, many current patients are presenting with more stress and anxiety disorders that were once controlled and are now reappearing, and patients with new disorders are also surfacing,” says Dr. Rohaidy. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), one-third of women and one-quarter of men feel anxiety around the holidays.

“Holidays like Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s add another level of stress that other holidays do not, and it affects us and those around us,” Dr. Rohaidy warns. She offers some helpful tips on how you can minimize your stress and enjoy your Fourth of July or any other celebration.

Tips for Taming Your Holiday Stress and Anxiety

Practice self-care and make time for you:

Making time for yourself can be as simple as taking 15 minutes for yoga, meditation or prayer; journaling; knitting or reading a book. Those 15 minutes are you time. It’s nice to have things written down so you can see what is ahead of you and keep on top of your own mental health.

Schedule worry time:

You don’t have to worry all day. Schedule time to worry every day. Write down your worries and come up with reasonable things you can do to overcome or resolve them and designate a time to take care of your worries. Don’t let them snowball.

Keep it simple:  

Who doesn’t love a good party? Preparing for a party can be exhausting, though. Plan ahead to help reduce your stress and don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself – allow others to help you. Order online, have food delivered or plan a potluck. Focus on what’s important to you – gathering with the people you care about and celebrating an important holiday or occasion. Remember, too, that people are coming to your house because they like you and want to be with you.

Re-think your gift-giving strategy

We all like to give and receive gifts. Instead of worrying about what to buy, though, change your thinking to “It was so nice that this person thought about me,” and know that they feel the same way about you. And make it fun – have a gift exchange where people take turns selecting gifts. The best gifts rarely end up with those who first selected them and it can get pretty cut-throat as more gifts get opened.”

Set your boundaries:  

Prioritize your health and your needs. Your own mental health will improve your overall health and wellbeing. Eat healthy, exercise and practice sleep hygiene. Think twice about overindulging in alcohol. If you are post-COVID infection, stay away from toxins.

Just say “NO!” (And know it’s okay to say “NO!”):

Acknowledge that if things aren’t right for you, they aren’t right for you. End of story. If you don’t want someone to come to your house, or certain issues discussed, let people know.

Identify your triggers:

If you know your triggers (i.e., loud explosions) and can identify the source (your neighbors set off fireworks every year on the Fourth of July), have a conversation with your neighbor and be as open and honest as you can. If you aren’t comfortable sticking around for the “Big Display,” maybe you can go to a friend’s house where there are no fireworks.

Make a plan:

We’ve all been through a lot of changes in recent years and planning ahead reduces stress by helping you stay on top of your triggers and avoid difficult situations. Uncomfortable with going out? Stay home or invite someone over. Or join a Facebook group and see what the group is planning – you can always find things to do with people virtually if you’re feeling lonely. If you’re invited somewhere and you feel you must attend, bring your significant other or a friend with you. Create a code to get out of the gathering when either of you feels you’ve had enough. Practice these things regularly and they can help ease your anxiety and stress.

Ask for support:

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Learn your limitations and get ahead of your triggers and the things that make you uncomfortable. Reach out to family, to friends and to your community and let them know what you’re struggling with to help them understand. Set your goals and ask for help.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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