One year later: the Anniversary Effect

What has this past week been like for you? I feel like I’ve seen glimpses of an alternate reality as our city opens back up. There are more people and groups gathering outside and Governor Walz just gave the OK for higher capacity in many types of venues. While I understand that for some this feels joyous and exciting…

I don’t want to re-enter

Can you relate? The virus and its sneaky variances are always on my mind. However, most of my hesitation and anxiety is tied to the cumulative fatigue of this last year. I’m weary and guarded and not ready for another big change, especially not one as drastically sudden as what happened last March.

Extreme change without transition is what we experience as trauma. It happens when our nervous systems take in more than we can process and they are completely overstimulated. Our minds, bodies and spirits want to protect us, so they respond with fight or flight reflexes like anxiety and depression, fear, pain and so many more. Some of us have carried those responses with us all year and we’re still living with them. And some of us started to feel more settled but now are noticing a reawakening of trauma responses. Why?

The Anniversary Effect

A psychological pattern called the “Anniversary Effect”shows up when we revisit past trauma even without knowing we’re doing so. The Effect includes a reawakening of disturbing feelings, thoughts or memories on or around a date that marks a significant event. It can sneak in without us realizing what’s happening until we glance at the calendar. “Oh! It’s almost exactly a year since we went to shelter-in-place.” (We might not even need to look at the calendar.) Some psychologists refer to the Anniversary Effect as the echo of trauma. It doesn’t feel good but it’s an important part of grief and healing, as it gives us the chance to process smaller, digestible bits of the trauma rather than the initial sudden onset. We can create a more peaceful transition into whatever comes next.

Trauma responses are complicated and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to deal with the ways we might want to start interacting with each other. The good news is that you can give yourself permission to transition in your own way, even if you don’t yet know what that looks like.

Creating a peaceful transition

We each deserve a transition that’s gentle and kind and respects where we are in our own process. The science is clear that the vaccines protect us and help prevent the spread. At some point, they’ll allow us to reconnect with our people. What the vaccines won’t do is take our new habits of fear and anxiety out of our bodies so that when we decide to reconnect, we can do so in a way that feels safe and joyful.

My work with somatic yoga therapy has shown me time and time again that each of us has the innate ability to guide our healing. There’s an introspective process to help us identify what’s holding us back whether it be shoulder pain or more generalized feelings of anxiety. Once we can find it and name it, we can begin to heal it. This process requires patience and consistency and, most of all, it requires self-compassion. It requires our willingness and ability to create a peaceful transition from where we are to where we want to be. One of the most beautiful parts of the process is when the “want to be” that shows up is something we could have never imagined for ourselves. I’ve provided a few first steps in the next section below.

First steps toward coping and healing

Pre-pandemic life is sometimes referred to as “normal” and now we’re headed into a “new normal.” We crave familiarity and, do I dare say, stability? Absolutely and yet, I caution us from over-defining “normal.” Instead, we can practice trusting that we’re ready for whatever shows up. However you feel about this past year, you’re here. It was rough, but you did it. Now, at one-year anniversary time, you can give yourself the time and space to process that you didn’t get last March.

For some of us, the pandemic brought more space into our lives. We cleared our social calendars and tried new hobbies. Maybe we learned that we can do just fine with much less than we thought. Maybe, amidst the chaos, we were able to find a new stillness. And now, talk about resuming normal activities can create ambivalence and even outright fear.

Here are a few things to consider as you make your own decisions about how and when to move back into activities outside the four walls of your home:

  • Write down some things you liked and didn’t like about your life pre-pandemic.
  • Write down some things you liked and didn’t like about your life in this past year.
  • Compare the lists. What can you give yourself permission to leave behind and what would you like to carry forward? Give yourself permission to let go of “shoulds” for what you or someone else might expect from you. Allow yourself to daydream with a mindset of possibility. Journal, doodle, talk with a trusted support person.
  • Keep this list of coping tools where you can access it readily when your trauma responses kick in. If you are in a steady state of trauma response, set aside a consistent time each day to practice coping tools like these:
    • Relaxation breathing techniques
    • Guided meditation
    • Gentle exercise
    • Time in nature
    • Time to rest
  • Ask for help. There are many pathways to support and healing. Somatic yoga therapy is one path. So is spiritual counseling. Or psychotherapy. Or a myriad of other ways to have someone alongside you as you navigate your transition into the next changes.

Whatever path you choose please be gentle. You’ve suffered enough. It’s time to heal. If you’d like help finding a support professional, I’d be happy to give you a referral to one or more of my trusted colleagues. Email me or set up a 30-minute phone consult to get started.

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