The Fourth of July is a holiday that often entails loud, food-focused social gatherings. Many elements of these celebrations can be stressful to endure. By highlighting some of the “triggers” you may confront in the next few days, we hope to provide a few coping strategies that will help you take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health throughout the holiday.
Being with family and friends can produce a range of emotions and experiences for people, from feeling rejuvenating to challenging. If you fall into the latter category, here are a few ideas for preparing for family festivities:
“Be like a Duck.” When someone interacts with you in a hurtful way, try to picture yourself as a duck, and their words as water rolling off your back. Try to remind yourself “this isn’t really about me.”
Gravitate toward family members or friends who make you feel more comfortable. As needed, limit interactions with difficult people and focus your energy on conversations that will feel more life-giving.
Check in with yourself and listen to your needs. If you need to take some space to breathe and re-center, or even leave the gathering early, give yourself permission to follow your inner wisdom. Agree to a “check-in” time with your partner or set an alarm on your phone so you decide how long you would like to stay. Maybe it feels better to expect a two hour commitment ahead of time rather than an unknown time frame. Checking in while at the party can help relieve anxiety because you know there will be an opportunity to decide whether or not to stay longer- rather than just staying for an unknown amount of time.
Think about people who make you uncomfortable and why. Excuse yourself to use the restroom if topics of conversation or feedback feels negative. Use that time to re-ground with positive affirmations and slow breathing. Resist the urge to fuel negative thoughts about yourself or others.
Picnics and Barbecues
Eating during social gatherings can be tricky and challenging if you have dietary restrictions or personal preferences that require intentional eating. When partaking in traditional Fourth of July meals isn’t in your best interest, try to plan ahead with a few of these ideas:
Don’t go to the event hungry! Eat a meal beforehand, or bring your meal to eat alongside the rest of your group. You will be less likely to succumb to the foods at the gathering (that may not nourish you in the way you need).
Bring a dish to share that aligns with your needs and preferences--maybe you will inspire others by your food and beverage choices.
When you’re in a social situation where people are asking about your food habits, give a concise response and trust that you’re taking good care of your body. Remember that you do not need to convince anyone of your dietary choices and what you choose has nothing to do with what they choose for themselves.
Trying to stay sober? Bring your own non-alcoholic beverage that feels celebratory. Maybe you find a recipe for a non-alcoholic mixed drink. Drinking can feel like an assumed behavior, but should never be expected. Plan ahead for this and stay true to yourself.
People who experience PTSD are highly susceptible to the loud, triggering noise of fireworks and bright flashing lights. In a similar vein, some individuals and pets are more sensitive to things like large crowds, fireworks, and overstimulation. With this is mind:
Remind yourself that having startle or upset reactions are normal, and try not to judge yourself harshly. If the sound is too intense, bring along ear plugs (Even in large crowds this can help).
Practice grounding techniques like slow, deep breathing, mindfully observing the situation with your five senses, or noting the details of your present environment as a reminder that you are safe.
Consider taking a drive outside the city, where you may even be able to watch the fireworks at a distance, or experience the beauty of nature.
Reach out for help if your PTSD symptoms worsen/interfere with daily life.
Hopefully these tips prepare you for an enjoyable Fourth of July experience. Remember that these tips can help with birthday parties, baby/bridal showers, weddings, etc. If you are feeling anxious or apprehensive about upcoming social events, take the time to investigate why you are stressed. Once you think about the boundaries or strategies you can use at the party, you can relax and trust that you are going to have a good time!
Burn, S. M. (2018). Holiday Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Family Members. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/presence-mind/201811/holiday-strategies-dealing-difficult-family-members
Healthy You. (2018). How to manage PTSD on the 4th of July. Retrieved from https://www.peacehealth.org/healthy-you/how-manage-ptsd-4th-july