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 time 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. If you've felt this way at any point, you may have experienced a trauma anniversary.
What exactly is a trauma anniversary?
A trauma anniversary refers to the time of year - or specific day - that you experienced trauma. Every survivor defines their own trauma - and its anniversary - differently. There is no definitive "trauma anniversary," but rather an association of feelings that may arise due to past trauma.
During certain seasons of the year, old memories and associations are re-activated. During 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. Often, these correlations are positive. Sometimes, though, the recollections are less than pleasant, particularly when they’re associated with trauma.
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 also normal. Not everyone acknowledges trauma anniversaries or experiences the emotions often associated with them. Others experience severe responses, such as extreme depression or suicidal thoughts.
If you have these experiences, know that you are not alone, and we are always here for you. Text Leda to 741741 for 24/7, confidential, free crisis counseling. As survivors ourselves, we’ve been there. We know how it feels, and we’re here to help you.
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 may find yourself thinking about the event over and over. Remember as time passes, 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.
- 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 solo date or set up an evening routine to 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 virtual Healing Circles. We provide a brave, virtual space online where you can explore healing through yoga, art, movement, and more at a low cost.