Trauma Anniversaries: What is the “Trauma Anniversary Effect” & What Can You Do if You Suffer From It?

by | Dec 15, 2021

When we think of trauma, we are usually talking about something that happened as well as the associated memories of that event. In fact, for most people, surviving a traumatic event is only the beginning. Many involuntarily relive the memory of that trauma year after year. Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing argues that, “Trauma is not the event, but the energy that remains trapped in our bodies and nervous system around both real and perceived threats.”

Trauma results when our systems do not allow a full discharge of energy and we remain stuck in the fight or flight mode. For this reason, the effects of the trauma can linger in the body even after it is a distant memory. A trauma anniversary (or Traumaversary) can be a frustrating process when distressing bodily sensations creep up in a seemingly sudden manner on the anniversary of the event.

While surviving a trauma is a major accomplishment, unfortunately the negative energy from that trauma can persist for a lifetime as the anniversary of that event passes year after year. So, it begs the question, what is the best way to survive a Traumaversary? Here are some ways to help you cope with the anticipation and even positively adjust the outcome of your day.

Dealing with the Anticipation of a Trauma Anniversary

Let’s say you are scheduled for a blood draw and you’re terrified of needles. You start to dread the appointment and you get yourself so worked up, the days leading up to your appointment can be almost as bad as the actual event.

You just want to get it over with.

That dreaded anticipation is what happens with the encroaching anniversary of a tragic event. So, here are some things to try and get yourself into a better headspace:

1. Reclaim Your Life – Minute By Minute.

Remember this:  Every single moment you devote to this fear, you are giving more and more life to it. Do your best to RECLAIM your life, your minutes of precious time, and your energy. Ask yourself, “Is thinking about the traumaversary going to make it not happen?” Of course not.

Giving more time to thinking about your trauma anniversary is like giving oxygen to a fire. So, resist the urge and give it as little oxygen as possible.

2. Focus on the Here and Now.

Be present. Concentrate on your daily tasks and focus on your goals for the day. Staying laser focused will help keep your mind from drifting and then focusing on your impending traumaversary.

3. Get Sleep During the Days Leading Up to the Date.

While it may feel like sleep is a catch-all treatment, understand that when you are fully rested, your mind is more rested, and you are less likely to be anxious. Do your best to practice good sleep habits and focus on making sure you get plenty of rest on the days leading up to your trauma anniversary.

4. Make a Plan for the Day.

Plan ahead for the day and plan to fill it with interesting and fun things to do, or ways to keep yourself busy.  Remember, it is up to you to choose how you want spend the day. If you want to forget about the occasion, allow yourself to take your mind off of it. It’s totally OK if you want to treat the day like any other day — just be sure to think and plan ahead so the day doesn’t take over your life.

Surviving The Day of Your Traumaversary

So, now that the anticipation is over, and the actual day is here, below are some ways to get past it and even make room to experience some happiness.

1. Let it happen.

No matter what happens, that date and that bad memory will always be there. The pain may fade over time like a photo that has been left out in the sun, but it never really goes away. That means, no matter how well adjusted you are, at some point, you are going to feel a stab of pain.

So, the best advice is – if it is going to happen, just let it happen. Let your thoughts go to that event and give yourself permission to think about it. Allow yourself to experience whatever you need to feel. Give yourself a quiet, private space to experience this, and it you need, surround yourself with people who support you. Trust your grieving process.

2. Practice Positive Self Talk.

You can do this by talking yourself through this. Work with your therapist, but some things you can tell yourself are as follows:
  • I am safe.
  • I am not responsible for the event.
  • I will be OK.
  • The threat is over.
  • I did all I could.
  • It is OK for me to be happy today.

3. Follow Your Plan.

Remember that plan you created in the days leading up to the Traumaversary? Follow that plan. The structure will keep you focused and on task. Plan ahead and surround yourself with people who support you and do tasks that make you feel fulfilled. With a little help and planning, the day can be yours to seize.

 

It is important to note that this article does not address the specifics of dealing with your trauma, whether that is the persistent fear of an assault, death of a loved one, or the guilt of surviving a mass casualty, or other traumatic event. Rather, this article deals with the anxiety and dread that comes with the anniversary of the trauma. Please consult a mental health professional for help with specific traumas, any time you feel overwhelmed, and especially if you feel as though you might want to hurt yourself. 

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