Managing Anniversary Reactions to Traumatic Events
We know that on the anniversary of a traumatic event, people often experience a re-occurrence of some or all of the feelings they experienced at the time of the event. This is called an “anniversary reaction.” Anniversary reactions can be initiated by anything associated with the time the trauma occurred, including the season of the year, a particular date, or hour of the day. Anniversary reactions are expected and normal and they may be mild, moderate or strong.
“What are the common anniversary reactions?”
You may be feeling exhausted. You may have headaches or anxiety. It might be hard for you to sleep, and you may have bad dreams, irritability, loss of appetite or feelings of numbness.
You may feel confused, and have trouble concentrating. Some other normal reactions are feeling afraid, feeling nervous or helpless. Feeling sad or depressed is normal, too. And you may keep thinking about the event over and over, even when you don’t want to.
“How long will these anniversary reactions last?”
As time passes (days or weeks) your anniversary reaction should get weaker, and your symptoms will occur less often.
The time it takes to recover will vary. Much like the flu, your anniversary reactions to the event must run their course. Just remember to accept these reactions as normal, and they will ease in time.
“What can I do to feel better?”
- Time will help. Talking things out will help, too. Talk it out with loved ones, co-workers, friends, clergy or counselor—anyone who cares and is a good listener.
- Let the stress reactions “flow” through you. Fighting against them only increases stress. Accept that these reactions are there, for now.
- Eat healthy food. Taking walks or other exercise will help. Get plenty of rest, and remember to talk it out with people who care.
“What if I begin to feel worse?”
If your reactions get worse, this simply means that the event was so strong that it pushed you past your normal coping ability.
If things do get worse, consider talking to a mental health professional. The Counseling Center is available to help you work through these reactions and other issues, such as anxiety, depression, adjustment, academic and other personal struggles.