Trauma and The Anniversary Effect
The Anniversary Effect is real. It is common to experience an increase in disturbing feelings, thoughts or memories leading up to the anniversary of a traumatic event. The hardest part about trauma anniversaries is that they can bring back physical and emotional distress experienced at the time of the event, causing us to re-live the event.
Not all those who have experienced trauma experience the anniversary reaction. Depending on psychological makeup, how grief has been processed, as well as the event itself, anniversary reactions may be minimal, but for a lot of people, trauma anniversaries bring up strong emotions.
Common reactions include: intrusive memories or dreams, feelings of grief and sadness, hypervigilance, jumpiness and irritability, startle responses, survivor guilt, anger to others, isolation, and avoidance of reminders of the trauma.
When the anniversary of a traumatic event approaches, there are ways to reduce the severity of your reaction. The following information applies to and is useful for anyone, however it may be particularly relevant for those with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as those who are exposed to trauma frequently.
The question then becomes what can you do?
The first year after an event will be somewhat unpredictable, but do your best to plan ahead. Recognize anniversary reactions are common. Do not expect it to be a normal day.
Eliminate extra stressors—try not to make any major life changes around this time of year.
Don't isolate. If you think you would prefer to be alone, have a backup plan or someone who you can call if you need to be with someone.
If the news or social media reminds you of the event, don't watch it leading up to or on the anniversary.
Seek extra support from friends and family.
Arrange to see your therapist more frequently.
Consider making a specific plan that relates directly to your loss or trauma.
Remember that this is temporary
Anniversary reactions usually subside within a few weeks. If you continue to struggle, discuss this with your therapist and arrange for increased support.
Just as everyone experiences trauma differently, each person will have their own experience of a trauma anniversary. Learn to recognize your triggers, as they will be individual. Ask for what you need. Do not feel shame that you should be “over it” no matter how long ago the trauma happened. The fact that you are affected is an indication that this has profoundly affected you. I would invite you to try to honour that and to take care of your needs.
If you are struggling with past trauma and are interested in psychotherapy, feel free to book a consultation and we can discuss how I may be able to help.