Independence Day can be a time to celebrate for many. It is a time to spend with family, enjoy rest and relaxation, and even revel in the excitement of fireworks. For those with a brain injury, though, this holiday may look and feel very different.

Brain injury can bring many unpleasant symptoms, including physical changes (fatigue, pain), photophobia (light sensitivity), overstimulation to noises and crowds, and many emotional changes like anxiety and depression. Despite all of the changes that survivors feel on the inside, brain injury is often referred to as “an invisible injury” because others may not recognize the individual has sustained a brain injury. Many of the cognitive, emotional, and physical changes are unnoticeable to others on the outside. What used to be pleasant holidays and get-togethers, like Independence Day, may pose a variety of challenges for those with brain injury.

Some individuals with brain injury may even be living with a mental health condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can develop after exposure to a traumatic or life-threatening event, such as a car accident, a fall, or combat-related incident in the military. PTSD may mean that someone experiences flashbacks, nightmares, or is overly aware of their surroundings. For Independence Day, fireworks may be an unpleasant reminder of the trauma they experienced.

The good news is there is hope for those with brain injury to endure and enjoy the holidays once again, with small changes to their usual traditions. Here are a few tips for individuals with brain injury, as well as their support system, for navigating this upcoming holiday.

Tips for Individuals with Brain Injury

  • Plan ahead: speak with family and friends to identify a safe and enjoyable way to enjoy the holiday
  • Manage fatigue: be well-rested leading up to the celebration and take breaks when needed
  • Reduce sensory overstimulation: taking noise-cancelling earphones, sunglasses, or hats may reduce the sensory input during fireworks and around large crowds
  • Choose your location carefully: if you choose to enjoy a live celebration of fireworks, choose a seat furthest away from the action
  • Explore your options: forego the live fireworks and watch them from the comfort (and quietness) of your home

Communication Tips for Brain Injury Supporters

  • Ask first: ask the person with brain injury their preference for activities for the holiday
  • Offer support: if they choose to sit out on certain activities, join them and provide company
  • Find a balance: compromise on traditions and swap out events with new activities your loved one is most comfortable with
  • Have a back-up plan: identify alternative activities if your loved one is not feeling up to the festivities at that time
  • Plan your escape: in the event that your loved one is triggered by something during the activity, have a plan for minimizing distress and moving to a more comfortable place

These are just a few ways for everyone to show their understanding and support for individuals with brain injury during this holiday season.

Dr. Amanda Lopez PhD, LP, CBIS
Psychology Supervisor
Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center

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