The 'anniversary effect': coping with difficult dates and reminders
When life throws challenges our way, it can feel as if the world stops turning. And what can be just as hard, is facing anniversaries that remind us of what we have been through. Maybe it's a loss, an illness, a traumatic experience. Perhaps it's a collective, shared event, or maybe it's something that you went through all on your own. I spoke to the Irish Examiner about the concept of the 'anniversary effect', and what we should take into account when coping with difficult dates and reminders. Click here for the original article.
The first thing to remember is that there is no blueprint to navigating the anniversary of traumatic events. It’s possible that you’ll experience difficult feelings or sensations or memories. It’s also possible that you’ll feel numbness, or a sensation that you don’t feel anything at all. These are all ways for our minds and our bodies to cope with trauma and distress.
Ask yourself these questions:
What are your worries or fears around the anniversary of the event? It could be something you’ve experienced before, like flashbacks or dissociation. Or it could be around other people and what you believe they might be expected from you.
What do you need in order to look after yourself and keep yourself as safe and as stable as possible, both before and during the anniversary. Safe from further trauma and safe from re experiencing past traumas.
If you're feeling anxious about supporting yourself through a difficult or traumatic anniversary
Seek support from a qualified mental health professional. They will offer you the opportunity and space to feel safe and explore how you are feeeling. Trauma recovery does not necessarily involve re-living past events in order to ‘process’ them. It’s about connecting with our minds and bodies to help us to understand ourselves, and to build a sense of safety in the present.
Lean on your support network and communicate your needs to them. People often want to help, but sometimes they are scared about saying the wrong thing, or they don’t know the best way to do so.
Develop your own methods of self-care that can help you to soothe yourself at times of distress. This might involve breathing, grounding, mindfulness or affirmations. It’s important to develop something that works for you (rather than assuming that a generic technique will be helpful) so that you can play around with what works.
If you feel drawn to mark the anniversary, develop your own way of doing so. You don’t need to stick to some kind of culturally defined way of mourning or marking a trauma. Choose an act or an event or a place that helps you to connect with where you are in your recovery.
Keen to explore more?
I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.