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Trauma Anniversaries: What Are They and How Can You Cope?

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

A graphic saying "Trauma Anniversaries" to indicate the pain they can cause.

No matter where you are on your healing journey, the anniversary of your trauma could affect you in various ways. It’s important to remember that every individual affected by trauma is going to be impacted in unique ways, including reactions to the anniversary of a traumatic event. This article won’t be one size fits all. You may experience all of these symptoms, just a few of them, or none at all. The way your trauma presents itself will be individual to you. 

What is a trauma anniversary?

Page of a flip calendar

Anniversaries are usually fun and worth celebrating: unfortunately, some anniversaries don’t come with presents and fancy dinners. Some trauma survivors experience worsened symptoms on or around the date that they experienced trauma. Some trauma survivors can recall the exact date and time of the trauma they experienced. Some survivors can’t or don’t want to remember. Even if you don’t remember, your body might. Some individuals report feeling anxious, sad, numb, or shut down seemingly out of nowhere. Without knowing what could have been the cause, it leaves them confused and worried. If you’ve ever had this happen to you, after some thought, you may come to the realization that it is around the time of year you experienced trauma. While you may not consciously know the date of the traumatic event, your body may hold onto that information. Feeling the weather change, differences in the colors of the trees, different holiday decorations, or even certain smells can lead your body to the same feelings of stress that you once experienced. 

How to Prepare for Your Trauma Anniversary

 A woman sits at a table and writes in a planner as she drinks coffee and eats a croissant.

If you’ve experienced a trauma anniversary in the past, you can use this knowledge to help create a plan as it approaches. If you’re experiencing your first trauma anniversary, take note of what symptoms you’re experiencing and what thoughts or feelings you are having. Being mindful of what you are experiencing can help decide what tools you can use to prevent and cope the next time around. 

  • Identify your feelings: Knowing your feelings can help you choose the most helpful coping strategies. I.e., You can feel your heart racing and you know deep breathing helps slow it down, so you do some breathing exercises. 

  • Have a coping plan ready: One thing we know for sure about trauma anniversaries is they will always come back around. Having a tangible coping plan handy if and when you need it will provide you with helpful information without having to think about it. Trying to develop coping skills in real-time isn’t always easy; creating a list to refer to beforehand sets you up for less stress in the future. Create a plan before you need it.

  • Prepare your support system: Unfortunately, it’s impossible for your support people to read your mind. Giving them a heads-up before the anniversary date allows them to be more mindful about changes in your demeanor or attitude. It also gives them a chance to help you develop a coping plan. An easy way to start this discussion could be: “Hey, the anniversary of ______ is coming up. I’m not sure how it will affect me this year. Would you want to help me create a coping plan in case I need it?” Having support through times like this is essential and may be hard to ask for in the moment. 

  • Set up preemptive support: If you realize the anniversary is approaching, reach out and set up an appointment with your therapist or counselor. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, as the saying goes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Having professional support to help you process during this time could make a massive difference in how the anniversary impacts you. 

What can you do if the anniversary snuck up on you?

a woman sits in meditation pose

Not knowing the date or having it sneak up on you happens. If you haven’t prepared for it don’t worry! Here are some things you can do to help alleviate some of the symptoms that may pop up. These strategies might not work for everyone; you know yourself best!

  • Orienting observations: Actively pointing out observations could help your body realize that you are not in the same traumatic situation. You can tell yourself things like:

  • I don’t live in the same house as when ____ happened.

  • I didn’t have this tattoo when _____ happened.

  • I wasn’t working at this job when ______ happened.

  • Create a new memory: Plan a trip, have a party, or do something monumental! The idea behind this is to create a new memory that is associated with the anniversary date. Next year, instead of your mind and body jumping to the trauma, you may remember that this is the day you went skydiving. 

  • Give yourself grace: Trauma, no matter how old, can have a significant impact on you. Give yourself the time and space to process. Don’t beat yourself up for needing a day...or three to get back on your feet. Be patient and kind to yourself; you deserve it.

  • Utilize your support: Even without a heads-up, your support system can be helpful in getting you through this time period. Call your friends, make an appointment with your therapist, and get the support you need. There is no shame in calling your best friend and letting them know you may need help getting out of bed for the day; trust me, they get it!

  • Open your toolbox: Use all of the skills and strengths you have collected over the course of your healing—box breathing, meditation, compartmentalizing, exercising, sensory input, and going on a walk. You have earned these skills, you have experimented with them, you know what works. Try a skill you have used a hundred times, or try something new. It can be hard to utilize coping skills while you are going through it, but just do it; just try. Your body and mind will thank you. 

Getting through

a white middle-aged man gives a white middle-aged woman a piggy back ride

Getting through a trauma anniversary can be difficult. You may experience feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, or anxiety. By preparing and utilizing these different techniques, you can and will get through it.

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