Our bodies and minds recall things that we don't even realize we're remembering. They capture recollections of odors and other sensations — minor nuances of times that seem to mean nothing... or everything — and store them in a database for later use. In the same way that you may find yourself in a cyclical tradition of feeling forced to change your hair every spring, there are times of the year when depression or grief seeps deep into your bones.
What exactly is a trauma anniversary?
During certain seasons of the year, old memories and associations are re-activated. For instance, throughout the holiday season, you may find yourself thinking more about family or personal ties, whereas during the summer, you may find yourself thinking more about arranging your next vacation. The majority of the time, these correlations are positive. Sometimes, though, the recollections are less than pleasant, particularly when they’re associated with trauma.
Experiencing trauma on the anniversary of a traumatic event is understandably unsettling. In addition to heightened emotions, you may feel exhausted, restless, or depressed. It may appear that we are "reverting" to symptoms that we thought we had conquered. Keep in mind that all of this is normal.
Are trauma anniversaries normal?
Yes. In fact, all reactions to trauma are normal. And experiencing increased anxiety or depression when nearing the anniversary of past trauma is normal.
Not everyone has trauma anniversaries, but they can creep up on you as the days on your calendar get closer—a small amount of darkness that wraps its tentacles around your heart and head, debilitating you for no apparent reason until you realize, "Ah, it's almost that day again."
As difficult as these days appear to be, they provide us with a precious gift: the opportunity to engage in some reflection and self-healing.
What is an anniversary reaction?
On the anniversary of a traumatic event, many people report experiencing a recurrence of some or all of the feelings they experienced at the time of the event for the first time. This is referred to as an "anniversary reaction.” Anniversary reactions can be triggered by anything that has a connection to the original trauma, including the season of the year, a specific day, or even the time of day. Whether your feelings about the occasion are faint, moderate, or powerful, they are normal! Read on for a list of common, but not exhaustive, reactions to trauma anniversaries:
What are common reactions to trauma anniversaries?
- Unordinary appetite
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of fear or apprehension
How long will my trauma anniversaries go on for?
There is no right or wrong amount of time to heal after trauma. Even when you don't want to, you find yourself thinking about the event again and over. Remember as time passes (days or weeks), the severity of anniversary reactions should lessen, and symptoms should occur less frequently. The amount of time it’ll take to recuperate may vary. Anniversary reactions are similar to the “flu” in that they must be let to run their course. It's important to remember that these emotions are typical and that they will subside over time.
How can I prepare for a trauma anniversary?
This is a great time to lean into self-care. A little planning can go a long way, and it may help you reduce some of the anxiety that comes with anticipating a trauma anniversary and the emotions it may bring. Read on for a list of ways to care for yourself in the lead up to your trauma anniversary, and explore our full blog post on the topic here.
- Coordinate Your Calendar: Keep an eye on your calendar, and be conscious of any dates or times of year associated with dark memories. Always keep in mind that the days or weeks coming up to these milestone anniversaries may be difficult for you, and plan accordingly. Avoid work presentations or high pressure social events if you are able to. Perhaps, go so far as to plan a weekend getaway or secure concert tickets to an artist you love.
- Talk to Someone You Trust: Let people in your life know what you are going through or anticipate experiencing. You can send them this article if you would like them to have a better understanding for trauma anniversaries and the normal reactions you may have.
- Carve Out Some Me Time: It may feel positive to distract yourself from the painful memories a trauma anniversary may bring up (and that may even be true!), but make sure to carve out some time for yourself as well. Whether you enjoy cooking, running, journaling, or playing pool with friends, give yourself a little extra love as you work up to your trauma anniversary and sort through the emotions it brings.
- Seek Support: It’s easier to seek out help before you need it. If you are anticipating a stressful time, this is a great time to seek professional guidance or support, such as from a counselor, psychotherapist, or doctor.
If a trauma anniversary for sexual assault is coming up, consider joining one of Leda Health’s free, virtual Healing Circles. We provide a supportive environment where survivors can explore healing through yoga, art, movement, and more. You can also have a look at our other services.