The Boston Marathon happens in April every year. For many people, mentioning this marathon doesn’t evoke happy or celebratory thoughts anymore — it sparks trauma. The Boston Marathon Bombing happened in 2013, and for many individuals, it’s become a trauma anniversary. Sadly, trauma anniversaries can impact us for life, especially if we don’t recognize them and seek treatment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn how to identify if you have a grief anniversary and get help to resolve the pain.
What Is a Trauma Anniversary?
A trauma anniversary, also known as an anniversary reaction, is when an individual responds to unresolved grief surrounding an event. The person often experiences adverse side effects that span days or weeks before, during and after the anniversary date. Some of the potential emotions and side effects that come up are:
- An increased risk for substance abuse (heavy drinking, drug use and relapse for sober individuals)
These emotions and impacts can be triggered by the date, something that reminds the person of the event or seemingly by nothing at all.
Examples of Trauma Anniversaries
Here are some examples of what might be a trauma anniversary:
- The day a loved one died (also known as death anniversary syndrome)
- A terrorist attack or school shooting date
- Veterans may have trauma anniversary dates for events that happened while they were in service
- The day of a miscarriage
- The day you or someone you know received a serious health diagnosis
- The day a person was sexually or physically assaulted
How to Recognize a Trauma Anniversary
It’s not always clear to the individual that they have a trauma anniversary. They might be aware that they get sad around the same time every year but make excuses for it (such as “It’s the bad weather” or “I’m just swamped at work right now”).
Ultimately, it’s crucial to identify if you have a trauma anniversary so you can seek help. A trauma anniversary is an event that will happen repeatedly if left unaddressed. It’s a psychological response to unprocessed trauma, so only recognizing and acknowledging the anniversary will result in positive change. When you seek treatment, you’ll eventually be able to get to a place where the trauma date may cause some sadness or pain, but the side effects won’t be as overwhelming.
Not sure how to recognize if you have a trauma anniversary? First, identify if you had any memorable dates or times in your life when you experienced life-changing trauma. Now, when the anniversary of those dates comes up, try to monitor if you experience any of the following reactions.
Most notably, the common symptom of a trauma anniversary is its overwhelming intrusion into your life. You’ll find that you’re frequently reminded of the event and constantly replay memories and thoughts about it. Nothing can stop these intrusive thoughts from creeping in, and you’re constantly distracted at work, school and home.
Sadness and Grief
Of course, trauma anniversaries spin up from an incident that was harmful to you in some way. As a result, your trauma anniversary often brings up all the sadness and grief associated with the event. If it’s a death anniversary, you might relive all the pain of losing that loved one all over again.
Fear and Anxiety
Anxiety and fear are common responses to a trauma anniversary. Around the time of your trauma anniversary, you may notice you are more jittery, are easily startled and have difficulty sleeping.
Some people, on some level, recognize that the date may be triggering for them, so they choose to avoid remembering their trauma as much as possible. For example, if the trauma is around a school shooting, they may avoid going outside or seeing children that day. Or if the trauma is from the death of a family member, they’ll avoid speaking to any remaining family that day because they don’t want to talk about the loss.
Many people naturally turn to isolation around their trauma anniversary. They may take some time off work, avoid calls and messages from friends and family and just sit at home. However, isolation isn’t the answer, as it leaves you alone with your thoughts and can result in more anxiety.
As a trauma anniversary approaches, you may find you’re easily angered and frustrated.
How to Get Help for a Grief Anniversary
The good news is that there are treatment options out there that can help individuals recognize and process their trauma anniversaries.
Seeking Support From a Therapist or Support Group
Professional help is almost always needed to work through the unresolved feelings associated with a traumatic event. A therapist or support group can help you understand the full impact the event has had on your mental health and help you learn coping mechanisms to address that impact.
A therapist or support group can also be a great resource when the trauma anniversary comes up. During that time every year, you may want to increase your visits and lean on these support systems more. So, as your trauma anniversary comes and goes, you have people to rely on who’ll help you work through your responses.
Practicing Self-Care and Mindfulness Techniques
Another important step in processing trauma anniversaries is reprioritizing yourself. Instead of sitting in all that anger, guilt and sadness, you can practice self-care and mindfulness. You may want to book a massage, get some extra physical exercise or attend meditation classes. Any of these activities can help you take care of your mental health during an otherwise challenging time.
Engaging in Activities That Provide Comfort or Distraction
Sometimes, a part of coping with trauma is learning to face the trauma head-on. Plan ahead when the anniversary of a traumatic event that causes you pain is coming near. Try to create a positive experience to honor the occasion or provide a distraction. If it’s the day a loved one passed, you could visit their grave site or do their favorite activity. Even asking all your friends to come over for a movie night could help be the welcome distraction you need! That day may always remind you of an unsettling event, but it doesn’t have to be a terrible day.
Grief Processing With Restore Mental Health
You don’t have to face your trauma anniversary on your own. Get professional help from Restore Mental Health to learn the coping mechanisms to acknowledge, face and move on from traumatic events. A better life is possible with treatment. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you.