Anniversary Reactions to Trauma

Anniversary reactions are a re-experiencing of a traumatic event that occurs because of a time cue. A time cue can be anything that was associated with the time the trauma occurred, from the season of the year, to a specific day. It may be a particular smell in the air, or events that occur regularly at that same time. During these times, feelings about the traumatic event can come up and be almost as strong as they were right after the event. The media’s focus on the event may offer a number of visual and other cues to remind us of what occurred and what we felt, increasing the likelihood of anniversary reactions.

Anniversary reactions to disaster and trauma may include feeling jittery, sad, angry, impatient, panicky, and having negative dreams or images intrude on you. You may feel generally fatigued and be having difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and eating normally. It is important not to judge yourself or others if you or they are experiencing these normal reactions. The tips for coping with these reactions are the same as for when you have just experienced a trauma:

Physical: Normalizing disrupted patterns

  • Try to sleep regular hours
  • Eat a balanced diet at regular intervals – even if you are not hungry, eat a little at each mealtime
  • Exercise moderately each day; a brisk walk will do
  • Seek medical attention if stress is making an existing medical condition worse.

If you are a Notre Dame student and you have significant difficulty with eating or sleeping, seek help at the University Counseling Center at 631-7336. If you are a Notre Dame employee, you may seek help through the Employee Assistance Program or by calling 1-888-267-8126.

Emotional/Spiritual: Managing your feelings

  • create a schedule of study, work, and recreation and stick to it
  • talk about your feelings
  • reach out to family and friends
  • recognize that thoughtful people of goodwill may have different opinions from yours
  • express yourself creatively (singing, dancing, cooking)
  • do something fun; laughing at serious times is OK
  • escape in healthy ways (exercise, movies, games; NOT overeating or abusing drugs or alcohol)
  • pray or meditate
  • seek out religious or spiritual communities
  • avoid making major life decisions at this time
  • seek support groups or counselors if you continue to feel distressed

The University Counseling Service is open from 9- 5 Monday through Friday and is located on the 3rd floor of the Health Services Building. We offer individual and group counseling to students and you can call 631-7336 to set up an initial appointment. UCC also offers consultation to faculty and staff who are assisting students in distress. Faculty and staff who have been personally impacted by traumatic events may call the Employee Assistance Program at 1-888-267-8126. This is a no-cost, confidential, assessment/referral service.

References:

Angie Panos " 1995-2002, Anniversary Reactions: A Survivor’s Guide on How to Cope, Giftfromwithin.org .
Department of Veteran Affairs, © 2001, “Anniversary Reactions” MIRECC, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, http://mirecc.stanford.edu/PTSD_Pages/vets_and_families/anniversary.html

Source: Anniversary Reactions to Disaster and Trauma (2002), by Suzanne Zilber, Ph.D., Student Counseling Service, Iowa State University. Adapted with permission.