America’s birthday is right around the corner and despite it being a day of celebration, I find it more suitable to call it a day of absolute hell. In theory, the holiday seems fine, fun even. Families get together, barbecues are lit, and fireworks taunt the children from whatever corner they are sitting in. There’s not much to complain about. But if you’re anything like me and suffer from severe, ugly, bane of your existence anxiety, then the Fourth of July is, without a doubt, one of the most exhausting days of the year (New Year’s Eve is the next).
My anxiety disorder does not, under any circumstances, let me deal with incredibly loud noises. Because anxiety jacks up our fight/flight response and depending on your own triggers, fireworks can give an attack. For me, fireworks will trigger an attack. My ability to think vanishes, every breath becomes short and shallow, lightheadedness sets in, tears start to free fall, and my body begins to shake like its got a fever. It’s a hellish experience that can last anywhere from ten minutes to several hours and leave me so emotionally and physically exhausted that it can take several days to fully recover. My country’s love for everything loud and flashy forces me to embark on a rollercoaster of being semi-lucid and feeling like I’m going to lose my damn mind. It’s not fun.
But being on edge every year for this particular holiday has allowed me to find a few survival methods that I think are worth sharing. They aren’t perfect but they help me get through the day with a minimal amount of recovery time.
1. If you can stay home, then stay home.
Do not go out because you were guilt-tripped by the family. Stand your ground, say no thank you, explain how your anxiety affects your ability to be fully present and happy on this day, and make plans for another family get-together. Home is, usually, the ultimate safe space. If it’s not, then visit a friend who understands your anxiety and is willing to have a night in with you. You are less likely to have an attack if you are in a space where you are completely comfortable in.
Because loud noises are such a huge trigger for my anxiety, I always carry a pair of high-quality earplugs with me. On the Fourth, I’ll pretty much wear them all day (because some people like to light up fireworks during the day and FYI: these people suck). Canceling out most of the noise and, depending on the proximity, only feeling some of the tremors of some of the fireworks makes the day a lot less stressful. So if you don’t have a pair of good earplugs, please get some.
3. Noise-canceling headphones.
Obviously, the point of earplugs is to dim or mute the noise of the outside world, but that makes for a very boring day. It’s a holiday, you should at least be able to binge some Netflix in peace. Investing in a pair of really good noise-canceling headphones is life changing. While the world is setting off those fireworks, you can watch a movie or listen to music in peace. You are in control of what you hear. Escaping the real world has never been so pleasant.
4. Avoiding caffeine, fried food, refined carbs, sugars, and alcohol.
Food affects the brain. That’s kind of common knowledge. But when you suffer from anxiety, it’s best to avoid foods that can spike your sugar and make you feel jittery. Especially on days with a mass amount of triggers. It may not seem fun because, you know, it’s a holiday and that cake looks really good, but if you want to avoid an attack on an extremely stressful day, avoid these foods. Eat your greens, good fats, and complex carbs. Give your body the nutrition it needs so you can cope.
5. Go where fireworks are illegal.
If you’re not required to spend time with your family/friends, and you want to go out, take off to a city where there are no fireworks. I’m fortunate enough to live next to a city where fireworks are illegal. And while I find it impossible to completely avoid fireworks, there is a significant drop in exposure and everything seems a lot more manageable. So go find a city, find a coffee shop in said city, grab a cup of non-caffeinated tea, and read a book (or watch Netflix on your laptop, you do you). Take yourself out on a date.
Anxiety isn’t easy to deal with. It’s stupid and annoying and some days feel damn near unbearable. But it’s not hopeless. You can enjoy the holidays (and life) in your own way. It’s just a matter of finding out what works.