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4 easy ways to support veterans on bonfire night

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

Disclaimer: Please note advice from this article is not to be used in place of advice from a medical professional and are based on my opinion and personal experiences.



Well, hello there!


Bonfire night is a great time of year for most of us. The night sky filled with sparkling lights, the crunch of cinder toffee between our teeth, warming up by the giant bonfire.


Unfortunately, bonfire night can be a trigger and a stressful night for our veterans for various reasons and can be an unpleasant time for them and their families.


Here I have written a simple guide that will help you support veterans and serving personnel in your local area, without you having to put a dampener on your bonfire night.


 

What is a veteran?


A veteran is someone who has served in the military for just one day.


Although most people think of a veteran as someone who went overseas on an operational tour, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, this is not the case.




Veterans can be all shapes and sizes, ages and genders and where many veterans may be proud of their service, some like to keep it private, so you might not even know that a person has served in the military.




Why is bonfire night stressful for some veterans?



This is a great question. Bonfire night is always the same time of year so you might think because the veterans are expecting it, then they will cope better.


Unfortunately, this isn’t the case because people set fireworks off at random times, on random days, which can be unsettling for a veteran.


Bonfire night is also quite soon after Halloween, which also means (unless they have a sign on their door asking for no visitors) the veteran has had their routine disturbed by strangers knocking on their door too. Young people may also have been setting off fireworks for fun, not realising the impact it can have on others.


In the UK bonfire night is just before Remembrance Day, which can stir up many emotions up for veterans, this could be anything from pride to sadness, to bitterness. This year this might be especially emotive due to the recent events in Afghanistan.




What happens if a veteran gets stressed?


Every veteran is different. In the movies when a veteran has a flashback because of a trigger, they jump over tables and relive a stressful event with great drama!


You will be pleased to know that this isn’t the case and usually flashbacks are not that intense.


Not every veteran has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but they still may respond to loud bangs which could trigger a fight or flight response.


This means their body will respond to a threat, even if logically they know they are in their home. They can’t control it, which can make it more frustrating.


If you have ever been stressed or anxious, you will notice the signs:


Symptoms may be:

  • Pacing

  • Being easily startled and on edge

  • Looking tense (tense jaw, clenched fists)

  • Their mood may become irritable or withdrawn

  • They may start talking much faster


Jump to: What to do if a veteran needs help?



What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?


PTSD develops as a result of a person experiencing frightening or distressing events.


This is not just for veterans; anyone can suffer from PTSD and it affects everyone differently.


Veterans with PTSD may relive a traumatic event in many ways, such as nightmares or flashbacks. They may suffer a wide selection of strong emotions, such as guilt, sadness and fear.


Veterans may be less likely to open up to civilian friends about how they are feeling, which can lead them to feel isolated.


Often for veterans, this is due to things they have experienced on operational deployments which may involve loud bangs and flashing lights, which bonfire night is full of.


Veterans with PTSD may also experience hyperarousal, which means they are ‘on edge’ and not be able to identify if something is a threat or not. This can be triggered by ‘big’ things, like loud bangs through to ‘small’ things, such as something being moved in their house, or a routine being changed.



 

Well, that is rubbish! How can I help?


There are so many ways you can help veterans and serving military personnel and still be able to have your bonfire night. Here are my suggestions:


1. Set a time and let people know



If you are planning a small firework display at your house, it would be helpful if veterans knew the time and date.


This way they can prepare for any triggers which may cause them high amounts of stress. Stick to the timings you said. This is very important.



You could let people know by posting on social media (feel free to copy and paste)


Hi all, we are going to have a small family firework display at our house on (XXX) on Friday 5th November between 1700-1800hrs. If you know any veterans who live locally or people with pets which may be outside, could you let them know so they can make adjustments if needed? Many thanks.


2. Use low noise fireworks


These are great if you live in an area with noise restrictions too.


These don’t just benefit veterans, they are great for people who don’t like noises, pets and farm animals (if you live in a rural area like I do)



3. Go to a local display instead of doing your own



These have a great atmosphere, food and fantastic fireworks for all the family.


The cost would be cheaper than if you have your own display too.


If you have a veteran friend who you know well, who wouldn’t want to go, and has kids, you could offer to take their kids for them and bring them back a toffee apple!


4. Go over to their house


If you are friends with a veteran why not go over and watch a movie?


It is better to go to their house because it is their safe space and if they are driving or walking to your house, they may become distressed if they hear an unexpected bang.




 

My friend is a veteran and is in crisis? What do I do?


It is great that you have identified this. You need to decide if they need urgent help or if you can calm them down.


Non-urgent help


These are strategies that can support a person in a heightened state of distress. If a veteran has been on any residential therapies, they may be familiar with which techniques work for them.


Please note this is not to be used in place of advice from a medical professional, these are grounding techniques that can be used to help reduce anxiety.


If IN DOUBT go to the urgent help section


  • Ask if they have medication. Many veterans will have an anti-anxiety medication, which they can take for times of crisis.


  • Give them a sweet. Seriously. A sour one is even better. It distracts from the hyperarousal and the suckling can support telling your brain it is ‘safe’.


  • Essential oil, a strong smell can help them focus on one sense and stop being overstimulated by their surroundings.


  • Do they own a weighted blanket or heavy duvet? This can support with anxiety.


  • Remember to stay calm and listen to them.


  • They might be embarrassed and exhausted after being in crisis, they might need some TLC for a few days after, remember to keep an eye on them!*

*Please note that if they have been in crisis, they may feel low in mood afterwards. This might have more impact due to emotions stirred up around Remembrance Day, and your friend or family member may need more support than usual.


Urgent help


The NHS has a selection of urgent mental health support. Please use it if in any doubt!


 

Other places veterans can get mental health support


Combat Stress: A helpline for serving personnel and veterans. It also helps non-veterans understand how they can support their loved ones.


The Samaritans: They even have a text service if you don’t feel like chatting.


SSAFA: Offers wellbeing support and a helpline for veterans


Anxiety UK: Offers free resources to support anxiety


I hope you have found this useful and remember to keep being excellent to each other! If you found this helpful, please comment or share this post.


 

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