July 4th weekend celebrations may be source of anxiety for some. Experts recommend being 'gentle' with yourself

·6-min read
if you're nervous about celebrating the holiday weekend, experts say that's OK. But they suggest looking at the holiday in a new light. (Photo: Getty Images)
if you're nervous about celebrating the holiday weekend, experts say that's OK. But they suggest looking at the holiday in a new light. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fourth of July weekend has historically been jam-packed with fun activities, but many of those were minimized or canceled last year due to the pandemic. 

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated people can go back to doing the things they did pre-pandemic. That means Fourth of July BBQs, parties and parades are back on again.

It's worth noting, though, the Biden administration recently said that it's unlikely to reach the goal of having 70 percent of American adults given at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by July Fourth. Currently, 66.5 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Wednesday CDC data. A little more than 57 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

Still, plenty of people feel anxious about a return to normal.

If you're one of them, just know this: It's natural to feel a little uneasy after more than a year of avoiding these kinds of activities. "As pandemic restrictions are lifting and demands for our daily routines are changing quickly once again, it isn't hard to feel unsettled," clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, author of Hack Your Anxiety, tells Yahoo Life. "Even with trusted information, we are still tasked with making individual decisions about our health and safety once again, and not all of us will see things in the same way."

This, Clark says, can be "especially complicated" when it comes to navigating social situations. 

Video: Travel surge expected for July 4 holiday weekend

Family therapist David Klow, author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist, tells Yahoo Life that it's important to be aware of your personal boundaries going into the weekend. "Where are we pushing ourselves past what is comfortable?" he says. "Being able to attend to one's boundaries can go a long way towards having healthy relationships and towards finding balance when celebrating holidays with others." If you don't feel comfortable attending a crowded gathering just yet, he points out that it's perfectly OK to decline an invitation or miss an event. 

If you're feeling anxious but not quite ready to miss out on activities, Klow suggests talking with a trusted friend or family member about your feelings. "Being able to talk with someone that you trust about any uncertainty or anxiety can help from it staying locked inside of you where it might become overwhelming," he says. 

If you do decide to go to a celebration or gathering, Clark recommends being "gentle" with yourself. "For some, permission to be normal again will be like a cage lifted," she says. "For others, it will feel scary." 

Instead of judging your emotions, Clark suggests exploring them more to try to figure out what's behind your feelings. This, she says, will allow you to have more compassion for yourself and others. "This has been a long and scary time, and our virus anxiety has helped keep us safe," she says. "It’s OK if it doesn't just evaporate overnight. It doesn't mean something’s wrong with you, or that you need to feel ashamed. It means you're human and you took the virus risks seriously."

At the same time, though, she recommends that you "push yourself to reclaim the things that matter" to you, whether it's having a BBQ with family or checking out a fireworks display.

As for risks, the CDC says that fully vaccinated people "can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance." Those who are unvaccinated, however, should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, the CDC says. 

If you're gathering with unvaccinated people — which includes children under the age of 12 — it's best to spend time outdoors "as much as possible," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. That's also a good idea if you're immunocompromised, even if you're vaccinated, he says. "Try to keep the hugging and kissing to a minimum," Schaffner says. 

In fact, infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says that "gathering with fully vaccinated indoors and outdoors is very safe." He also notes that "outdoor transmission is not common even for unvaccinated individuals," adding, "I don’t think it is a major risk."

If you're unvaccinated, "being around vaccinated people is the safest" option, Adalja says. And, if your children are unvaccinated, he says that deciding whether or not to do certain activities comes down to a risk tolerance decision about what you feel comfortable with.

"In general, children are spared of the severe consequences and not major spreaders of disease," he says. "If you are vaccinated, unvaccinated children pose no risk to you." Adalja also points this out: "Children have been participating in activities throughout this pandemic and Fourth of July is no different."

Of course, it can be difficult to know the vaccination status of everyone you'll be around this holiday weekend. Just know this, per Adalja: "If you're fully vaccinated and not immunosuppressed, others do not pose a COVID risk to you." If you're immunosuppressed, though, he suggests taking extra precautions like wearing a mask when you'll be in crowded indoor situations around unvaccinated people.

Luckily, Adalja says, "Fourth of July tends to involve activities outdoors where transmission is unlikely."

Fourth of July tends to draw some of the biggest crowds of the summer, and it's a good idea to take extra precautions if you're joining them, Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. If you go to a parade, fireworks show or other crowded events, "I would still try to maintain social distancing, especially with people who aren't in your immediate household," Watkins says. 

Overall, experts say you should be OK to safely enjoy the weekend if you feel mentally up for it. "If you are fully vaccinated, celebrate Fourth of July as you would any other year," Adalja says. 

Again, if you're nervous about celebrating this weekend, Clark says that's OK. But she suggests trying to look at the holiday in a new light. "Rituals, and particularly celebratory rituals, are critical to keeping us mentally healthy and resilient," she says. "No matter how you celebrate the holiday weekend, recognizing positive momentum and the many causes for celebration can help boost your spirits and resilience. It has been a long time, and celebrating positive milestones can help us each progress back to 'normalcy' at the pace that makes sense for us."

This story was originally published on May 24, 2021, at 12:33 p.m. ET and has been updated for July Fourth.

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