While anniversaries are often positive reminders of happy events like weddings and first dates, not all anniversaries are days you want to remember. The date of the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or any other traumatic event can trigger an “anniversary reaction,” causing anxiety, anger, depression, and fear. But there are ways to make it through.
Take a look at these seven tips to help you cope with a trauma anniversary.
1. Anticipate the Anniversary
An anniversary reaction can be particularly difficult when it catches you off guard, making you think something’s wrong with you for feeling the way you do. To combat that, remind yourself that the time surrounding the anniversary can be challenging, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Having an anniversary reaction doesn’t mean you’re losing the healing progress you’ve made. Ups and downs are common in trauma, and unsettling feelings, thoughts, or memories are a normal anniversary reaction.
2. Feel Your Feelings
As tempting as it can be to try to push through this period and pretend everything is fine, denial won’t change your reality. So allow yourself to feel the grief, anger, anxiety, exhaustion, betrayal, or whatever else comes up. Acknowledge and accept your pain as it is, without judgment. You are allowed to feel less than OK. Find a safe space to cry or scream to help you process the trauma and grieve.
3. Honor Your Experience
Some people find it helpful to commemorate the trauma anniversary with a ritual or ceremony. This allows you to publicly deal with your trauma and express your feelings in a controlled way. You may want to visit the cemetery or another meaningful place, participate in a charity event, or plant a tree to bring new life into the world. It’s not a “celebration,” but it can be an empowering way to honor your experience.
4. Practice Self-Care
If you know that a trauma anniversary will be trying, prepare for it by lightening your load. Eliminate unnecessary stressors like a move or job change at such a vulnerable time. Try not to take on major projects, and avoid making major decisions while you’re feeling this way. And if tasks like cooking and cleaning feel like too much, freeze meals in advance or plan to spend some extra money to have someone else do these things for you.
5. Choose Healthy Activities
Instead of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking or using drugs, engage in meaningful and life-giving activities. Express your feelings through writing, drawing, painting, dancing, or another creative outlet. Engage in physical activity to release excess adrenaline. Read a good book, soak up some sun, or take a nap. Look for a way to help others, such as giving blood or volunteering your service. Watch a funny movie, play a silly game, and allow yourself to laugh.
6. Spend Time with Loved Ones
A trauma anniversary is not the time to isolate from your loved ones, so don’t leave yourself alone with your thoughts and memories. Instead, invite friends and family in to help you navigate the dark waters. Trusted allies can provide much-needed encouragement and support during this time. Even if you’re not talking about the trauma explicitly, spending time with people who care can lift your mood and remind you that you’re not alone.
7. Seek Professional Help
If you’re having trouble functioning at work, at school, or in your relationships, trauma therapy at a mental health treatment center can help. Evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy allow you to process trauma in a controlled setting. A licensed trauma therapist can provide guidance, support, and comfort throughout the process, helping you build resilience and develop the strategies you need to heal.
While a trauma anniversary can be challenging, it also offers an opportunity for healing. By acknowledging and working through the feelings and issues that surface, you can develop a healthy perspective and emerge stronger than before.
If you’re anticipating a difficult trauma anniversary, call Beachside Rehab at 866-349-1770 for support. Our trained admissions counselors can help you find the treatment you need to relieve the weight of your trauma.