Millennium Post

Turning full circle

In anniversary reaction, emotional outpourings related to major life incidents — not necessarily traumatic — repeat themselves periodically on an annual basis; if processed adequately, these could lead to mental healing

Turning full circle

"What the mind has forgotten. The body remembers long after." – Lilias Folan

Sonali (name changed) came in to discuss how she had been feeling down lately for no apparent reason. She cited that last year's same time had been traumatic and stressful for her. Losing her mother to COVID-19 at that time and her own professional life going for a toss in the same month led to a brief spell of grief and anxiety but she managed to cope up with therapy and a brief course of medications.

This year, everything seemed to be going great. Her family life was happy, she had secured a senior management position at work, and she had even accepted the loss of her loved one. She questioned, then why are the memories of last year haunting her suddenly?

What is an anniversary reaction?

An anniversary reaction is the renewed feeling of grief or anxiety on or around the date of a traumatic event. This can occur not only at one-year mark of the incidence but each year as well. This reaction is considered a normal and common response.

It is that time of the year when the memories of an event may come flooding to you, leaving you disturbed, irritable and maybe just feeling strange for no apparent reason. Then, on closer introspection of the calendar, you realise that this is the same time of the year when you had experienced a traumatic loss or a major stressor.

What are some situations where one can experience it?

The death of a loved one; a car accident; a break-up; a traumatic birth; a miscarriage; a betrayal; a natural disaster like an earthquake, a major occurrence like a terrorist attack; receiving a diagnosis of cancer or another serious health diagnosis; sexual trauma; a divorce date; birthday of a deceased loved one; the start of the pandemic.

Why do people experience it?

An anniversary reaction can occur because the date of the original trauma (or some other trigger) activates a traumatic memory.

What does it look like?

Each person processes loss, stress and trauma events differently. Presentation of an anniversary reaction may differ from person to person, ranging from being mildly upset for a day or two to more extreme psychiatric or medical symptoms.

Some people may experience flashes of major events, memories triggered by subtle reminders or just out of the blue while doing some work. It can also present as:

✵ Grief and sadness

✵ Memories and vivid dreams

✵ Anxiety and irritability

✵ Frustration, anger and guilt

✵ Avoidance

✵ Remembrance

Does anniversary reaction always have to be related to trauma?

Not always. It can be a remembrance of someone you had a great relationship with, even just the birthday of a beloved.

What is Covid-19 anniversary reaction?

The start or the peak of the pandemic led to dread for everyone. So many people were confined to their homes, many struggled mentally, lost their jobs and even their loved ones. The time around the peak death toll worldwide was another time when the world mourned at the same time and everyone fended for their safety.

Last year this time

✵ Your loved one may have been sick, hospitalised or succumbed to COVID-19

✵ You may have been sick yourself

✵ You may have faced a panic situation in order to fend for your own health or a loved one's health

✵ Had trouble arranging resources for COVID-19 health issues.

All of these can trigger an anniversary response.

The good aspect of the anniversary reaction

An anniversary reaction could be a roadway to your emotional healing. Listen to your body and your emotions. Process them adequately.

What to do?

✵ Acknowledge: Understand that this is a reaction that can affect anyone

✵ Be prepared ahead of time: Try to explore ways to stay meaningfully engaged and be surrounded by people who can support you. If you wish to celebrate a deceased, go ahead and do it in your own unique way

✵ Allow: Allow yourself to experience all emotions. Instead of suppressing, express them.

✵ Speak to a specialist: Learn techniques like EMDR, and CBT to overcome the trauma response

✵ Be gentle with yourself

✵ Validate: Validate how far you have come from the original stressor and appreciate yourself for it.

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