A trauma anniversary can bring up a host of painful thoughts, feelings, and memories. But if you take appropriate action ahead of time, you can manage your emotions and prevent the experience from having a lasting negative impact on your mental health.
What Is the Anniversary Reaction?
According to the National Center for PTSD, anniversary reactions are related to the way your brain stores traumatic memories.
Depending on what type of trauma you experienced, your memories of the event may include information about how you should evaluate situations and respond to perceived threats in order to protect yourself. In the days or weeks leading up to the anniversary of a traumatic event, these memories and the information they contain can cause considerable emotional anguish.
The anniversary reaction can include unhealthy responses such as the following:
- Flashbacks (reliving or re-experiencing the traumatic event)
- Avoidance (altering your behaviors to escape reminders of the event)
- Negative emotions (including extreme sadness, guilt, and shame)
- Hyperarousal (feeling especially nervous, jumpy, or easily startled)
Suggestions to Help You Get Through a Trauma Anniversary
Here are 10 ideas that can help you ease or manage the distress that can arise on a trauma anniversary:
1. Prepare yourself
It is perfectly understandable to not want to think about the trauma or the approaching anniversary. But the harsh truth is that your trauma anniversary will arrive whether you want it to or not. Planning ahead gives you the opportunity to develop an appropriate strategy, so that you can deal with the day on your terms.
2. Stay busy
Planning for a trauma anniversary involves more than preparing yourself mentally for what could be an emotionally challenging day. It should also include thinking about where you want to be and what you want to be doing. Avoid the urge to simply stay home by yourself. Isolation can be a breeding ground for negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviors.
3. Connect with others
We mentioned the dangers of isolation in the pervious paragraph, but this issue is important enough that it bears repeating. Incorporate close family members or trusted friends into your planning process. This can include phone calls, text messages, and actual get-togethers. Don’t wait until the actual anniversary of the trauma – reach out ahead of to make sure you’ll have the support you need when the day arrives.
4. Be of service
One healthy option for a trauma anniversary is to find a way to be of service to others. If the trauma is related to the loss of a significant person in your life, performing volunteer service can be an excellent way to honor your loved one. For example, if your loved one was an animal lover, you may want to think about volunteering for the day at a local shelter.
5. Develop a ritual
Another healthy idea for a trauma anniversary related to the death of a loved one is to develop a ritual for honoring their memory. This can be a simple as gathering with others who knew your loved one to share remembrances of your time together. If your loved one enjoyed the outdoors, the ritual can involve planting a tree or engaging in some other nature-related activity. Depending on your religious beliefs or your loved one’s religious background, the ritual may also incorporate faith-based elements.
6. Know your triggers
Triggers are people, places, objects, or circumstances that can bring about distressing thoughts related to the trauma you endured. Triggers can exacerbate symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns. They can also cause people to act in self-defeating ways. When you know what your triggers are, you can learn how to respond to them in the healthiest possible manner.
7. Feel your feelings
No matter how much you plan, who you connect with, or what you do, the trauma anniversary may bring up some difficult emotions. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and accept your feelings. Unless your emotions are so intense and disruptive that they are impairing your ability to function, they are most likely normal and healthy. If you try to suppress them or numb yourself to their effects, you only delay their emergence and magnify their impact.
8. Acknowledge your progress
Grief doesn’t follow a steady or straightforward path – and the particularly difficult days can obscure the fact that you have made considerable progress. On the trauma anniversary, take a moment to acknowledge how much work you have done and how far you have come.
9. Practice self-care
This suggestion can be summarized in three words: Be kind to yourself. If you’re not sure how to do that, here are a few suggestions: Eat a nutritious diet, get a healthy amount of sleep, and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Also, resist the urge to beat yourself up when you have a bad day or when you don’t feel like you’re making enough progress. Treat yourself the way you like to treat others – with compassion and respect.
10. Get professional help
If reminders of the trauma continue to cause you significant distress, make an appointment with a counselor, therapist, or other qualified caregiver. There is no shame in seeking professional help when you need it. Getting the right type of treatment today can make your tomorrows significantly better.
Trauma Treatment Options in Atlanta, GA
When you are seeking care for untreated trauma, it is important to be aware of the many options that are available to you. At Peachtree Wellness Solutions, adults can receive customized trauma treatment at one or more of the following levels:
- Residential Mental Health Treatment
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient program in Atlanta (IOP)
Depending on how untreated trauma has impacted your life, your care at our center may include elements such as the following:
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Biosound therapy
- Holistic therapy
- Spravato treatment
- Genetic testing
- Neurofeedback therapy
- Red light therapy
Begin Trauma Treatment in Atlanta, GA
Peachtree Wellness Solutions offers personalized care and compassionate support for adults whose lives have been disrupted by untreated trauma. Our treatment center in Atlanta is a safe and highly supportive environment where patients receive life-affirming services from a team of skilled professionals. To learn more about our programming, or to schedule an appointment for a free assessment, visit our admissions page or contact us directly.