PTSD Spirituality: PTSD Triggers in the Summer Time

We enter summer, and like the Holiday Season between Thanksgiving and January 6th, it is a time fraught with enhanced PTSD triggers and behaviors.  Our society and behaviors are actually structured to (unintentionally) aggravate PTSD for those with military backgrounds, and to a lesser extent, those who have been traumatized through other venues such as rape, abuse, and other traumas.

Perpetual Fear and Crowds

During the summer we tend to come outside more and are thus exposed to more PTSD trigger stimuli…man, did that ever sound too officious! How about… 

It’s summer – you go outside – meet more PTSD triggers, Ugh!

There, that’s better.

Many people with PTSD live with perpetual fear.  Regardless of how they got PTSD, they have fear, suspicion, and have problems with crowds.  Summer brings more crowds.  While I still generally avoid crowds, I usually don’t always scan for knives like used to do. 

In the Army I was trained to never bunch up, don’t make a group sized target, which really translated to: Make them kill you one at a time and not as a group.  I still try to not bunch up. A crowd is a bunch of people.

This fear of crowds has been transferred to those who have never been in the military.  I have met more than a few students who have not been to Iraq or Afghanistan, nor raped, nor abused (and thank goodness for all of that!).  But they still have security issues.  They have the lagging Post-911 fear of terrorism.  In the five years after 911, the Homeland Security Department had conditioned them to be in a state of perpetual fear.  Crowds tend to make that fear worse.

The problem with the 911 state of perpetual fear is that Homeland Security never told them how to turn the perpetual fear off.  It seems that neither Cheney, nor Bush, nor Obama, nor hate-talk radio have told these people how to stop being afraid.  So many of our young people now have the problems of hypervigilance that many veterans and rape victims have.

Regardless of how you got PTSD, crowds can be triggers for us.  Should I stop going outside?  No.  Just be aware that if you feel the PTSD gnawing at you, it may be a subconscious response to all of the summer crowds.

If your PTSD-afflicted love one does not really want to go to that concert, festival, or family reunion, it may because of the plain fact it involves crowds and not the actual substance of what the crowd is doing.

Fireworks, Crowds, and Loud Noises are PTSD Triggers

I live in Milwaukee which is a blessing and a curse if you have PTSD.  Every summer we have festivals that take up nearly every weekend.  That brings in crowds, noises, and some people who vomit all over your lawn.

More summer nights than not, Milwaukee has a fireworks display from June until August.  My PTSD friends and I all figure out how to cope with the noise of the fireworks.  Some go to their basements and get drunk or do drugs.  Some drown themselves in porn and try to have no other feelings.  This is because porn desensitizes a person to true feeling – which is a major goal of PTSD.  Others turn up their own headphones and assault themselves with loud music so as to induce deafness.  Some, who have the means, leave town. 

The fireworks are not our friends

The sight, sound, and smell of fireworks bring back many bad memories.  If we mention how hard it is to other people we run the risk of being mocked, called wimps, or unpatriotic.

For many of us it is a time of even less sleep.  Lack of sleep causes muscle pain and enhances the negative aspects of PTSD behavior.

Fireworks keep us awake even when they have stopped.

We remain awake when the fireworks have ceased because they have started the tape of our traumatic memories.  The fireworks served to light a fuse to our own land of destruction.  Like a match that lit the fuse, the fireworks light up our memories.  So the rockets’ red glare may stop, but our memories are just getting started.

If your PTSD-afflicted love one does not want to go to the fireworks show, know that there is probably a very good reason. 

Fireworks activate too many PTSD triggers.  They activate too many smells, sounds, sights, and a crowd that is usually unresponsive to another person’s needs or disabilities.

Helicopters and Air Shows Aggravate PTSD

Summer brings air shows to my town.  We usually get the Blue Angels, or Thunderbirds, or some other group of elite stunt fliers from one of the Armed Services.  I always wonder why we waste tax-payers money on demo teams when all of that equipment and expertise is better used to support troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  [If the current Congress of John Boehner and Micky Cantor is content to cut off nutrition assistance (that means food) to mothers and infants and children, maybe the money from a few air shows could be used to feed the children instead.  After all, the funds clearly are not needed for the war effort if they are flying here…just a thought.]

These jets will fly rather low over our house.  It terrorizes our pets and does not do me much good either.  Complaints have been made but then we are dismissed as unpatriotic, cranky, etc.  But just like fireworks, but worse, the scream of a low flying jet and the shaking of their air, windows, and your teeth, are not good for PTSD recovery.  I can hardly imagine it is good for anyone, PTSD afflicted or not.

The ultimate purpose of military air shows is to increase recruiting.  Young men and women see the show and think they will be a pilot, when at best they usually will be part of the enlisted ground crew who walk the runway to ensure no debris is there (a valuable job that keeps our pilots from crashing!) and then gives the pilot his lunch.  I have no problems with military recruiting, as for most recruits it is the only way to get socialized medicine, college tuition, and maybe even a job.

Incidence of PTSD behavior’s negative coping skills go up when the military air shows inflict PTSD triggers on entire communities.  We are trapped for three days as they do so many flyovers.  They terrorize pets and I doubt they help babies take good naps.  It is all avoidable:

If these aircrews are the best then let them go support our troops overseas.

Along with all of the festivals, concerts, and air shows, we get traffic congestion.  All of these items bring out the local television news helicopters.  They hover over houses and apartments and report the breathless news of “Two Tacos for 99 Cents” or “We Offer the Unique News Perspective,” all the while enhancing the PTSD of veterans everywhere.

Local television news is itself a horrible thing to contemplate.  The cast is predictable, fit a demographic mold (and mildew), and have kept many a plastic surgeon busy.  There is usually the chubby, jolly, person, and then several who if they were not hyper-attractive could not get a job giving away free ten dollar bills.  As a theologian I know that one of the punishments of Purgatory will be forced viewing of local TV news programs.  Dick Cheney is said to have thought of using it against al-Queda, but even he could only go so far in using enhanced interrogation (what the rest of us call “torture”).

So, now that the living molten hell of local news programs is out of my system, let me state the obvious:

Local news helicopters cause fresh eruptions of PTSD.

Rarely is a helicopter in the metropolitan sky actually useful or in the business of saving a life.  Usually it is local news helicopter inflicting noise and horrible memories on thousands of people at a time.

I used to weep when I heard helicopters overhead.  Even now, they make me uneasy and fearful.  Given that I am a “success story” when it comes to PTSD and still have these responses, then the people who don’t understand PTSD are just dead meat for the trigger response engendered by non-essential helicopters.

How do I know it is just not me, that I am the only one who is sensitive to helicopters?  Because I get several inquiries every week that are explicitly about how helicopters in the USA triggered a PTSD response in someone.  To complain is to be labeled a crank.  We can’t interfere with self-important TV news hovering over your house and inflicting harm.

So Now What?

This has been a rambling essay about some of the PTSD Triggers that summer brings.  For most of us we cannot control them.  We can’t stop the screaming motorcycles that come for the biker festivals (although I am at a lost to understand why it takes 10 minutes to start a motorcycle and ride it AWAY.  Why it does not start and then just go). 

TV News helicopters, while being a sign of the Anti-Christ, will be with us until the Second Coming.  Noisy, rude, crowds will always be with us.  The smell of burning flesh at barbeques and reunions will not go away.  So what do we do?

Knowledge Helps Us Cope With and Heal PTSD

We can’t change society into a culture that respects life and wants to aid in healing PTSD’s soul wounds.  Well, at least it won’t happen this summer.  Such a transformation requires love.

But we can know that summer carries with it special threats to the well being of anyone afflicted with PTSD. 

Family reunions may include the uncle or other relative who forced himself on me. 

If Uncle Molester is there, his presence can make me physically ill.  Why would I want to go?

Concerts are noisy, loud, and sometimes pushy.  Helicopters are helicopters.  The smell of burnt flesh is not always a happy one, no matter what secret sauce we use.  

Fear and hypervigilance don’t take summers off.

But just knowing about summer’s extra PTSD risks can help us to not be as abused by them.

The air show will drive me to my basement again this summer.  I will have to decide afresh that I will not cope by drinking too much.  Every airshow is a fresh, new requirement for me to decide if I will cope by abusing alcohol.   But knowing the PTSD triggers are coming helps me to be prepared.  

I don’t have to be taken by surprise.

Just writing about my triggers makes me less susceptible to being pushed into negative behaviors.

What Should You Do This Summer About PTSD Triggers??

  1. Talk to someone you trust.  Tell them about triggers.
  2. Ask yourself when do you get stressed out?
  3. What bothers you and sets off PTSD?
  4. You should write about it.  Shared or private writing will help you better control what PTSD can do to you.
  5. Explore prayer, share with God what eats at you.

There is a value to self-awareness:

Naming and listing my PTSD Triggers, exploring what aggravates me and why, helps me cope better with the summer’s PTSD opportunities. 

Awareness won’t make me PTSD-Free, it won’t cure me, but I can take better control

When I share with my wife how I am and what PTSD triggers are bothering me, then she knows I am not just being a jerk, she can help me heal. 

PTSD hates loving relationships and that is why it promotes adultery and porn. 

Sharing your vulnerabilities with someone trustworthy helps you to heal, and it will even help them to heal along with you.  If you have no one like that then writing and prayer become even more imperative.

Click here for more essays on PTSD Triggers

We know the summer will be hard and difficult.  Most folks don’t understand and many just don’t want to understand our PTSD.  But if we better understand our PTSD then it cannot damage us as much.  And, in some cases those triggers will no longer bite us as hard as they used to, and in some cases they will cease to bother us at all.

You have value, so do we all.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Thank you so much for writing about this. I have rape PTSD and my fiance has combat PTSD. Many times we can find comfort and understanding in eachother during triggers and flashbacks but there’s of course times when were too caught up in our own trauma to be supportive and we mistreat and re-wound eachother. This has helped me understand him better and realize our triggers and symptoms aren’t all that different even though the trauma is. God bless and thank you for your service.

    • The dynamic of two differently caused PTSD (rape and military) is both a challenge and an opportunity of sorts.
      There is a risk that one person’s symptoms will trigger the other person’s symptoms and then a trigger-chain of symptoms and responses spirals out of control.
      But there is also a possibility that the more you understand and love one another, the less likely you will be to trigger off one another’s symptoms. Knowledge, love and patience are key. Always reminding oneself that each of you are not doing things to intentionally harm or aggravate one another. Giving one another the benefit of the doubt will make you both stronger in your defenses against PTSD, but will also cause you to experience more love and compassion for one another and your own identities.
      The increase of knowledge, love, and compassion helps to vaccinate us against the PTSD-Identity which wants to isolate us and ruin our relationships.
      Congratulations to both of you for caring enough about one another enough so that you seek ways to better understand, love, and cherish the other person.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Dr. Z –

    I was invited to give the memorial day address at one of our Memorial Day events in town. I was talking to veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the recent Desert/Mountain conflicts. We talked about many of these very triggers – especially fireworks.

    Thank you for posting this. My PTSD is not from my military service, but these are still very real triggers for many of us who battle the dragon that is PTSD


    PS. Good to see you feeling well enough to blog again, I have missed your wisdom.

    • Greetings Pastor David,
      I am grateful that you continue to follow this website. The usual challenges raise their ugly heads and that often results in little or no writing for me.
      I admire your ability to write both meaningfully and frequently. Your experience at Memorial Day with the vets and others with PTSD is an indicator how we are all linked together in our battle to survive the monster that is PTSD.
      Fortunately, PTSD shrinks away from love and community – the very things you offer those vets and your fellow fire fighters.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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