How to Manage Trauma Anniversaries
By Ashley Wallis
Our bodies and minds remember things we don’t even register. They collect memories of smells and other sensations—minute details of moments that seemingly mean nothing…or everything. Just as when you catch your mother’s perfume as you’re walking through a store and it makes you smile, there are sense memories tied to our trauma. Just as you find yourself in a cyclical tradition of feeling absolutely compelled to change your hair every spring, there are times of year depression or grief sets deep into your bones.
Trauma anniversaries are not experienced by everyone, but they can creep up on you as the days of the calendar grow closer—a small bit of darkness that wraps its tendrils around your heart and mind, crippling you for an outwardly unknown reason until you realize, “Ah, it’s almost that day.” Although you may not register it, your body and memories might. It may not seem logical, and you may find your reaction confusing or frustrating. As heavy as these days feel, they give us a beautiful gift—we’re given the opportunity to do some introspection and healing.
Things to Do Around Trauma Anniversaries
Acknowledge what you are feeling – Your body and mind are reacting to something. They’re trying to get your attention. Validate the trauma response you’re experiencing, and don’t try to numb these feelings away. Honor them.
Communicate your needs to your support system – Even if you are normally busy at work or at home, talk to those around you to let them know you need to take some extra time for you. Take a day off if you need it, and if you can’t take a day off, try to at least take things slow. Don’t put yourself in the position to get overwhelmed when you’re already in a trauma response and lean on those who care about you if you need help getting things accomplished during this time. It is ok to ask for help.
Check in with yourself frequently – Listening to your body and not fighting against the trauma helps to remove the anxiety and tension you’re probably feeling. Ignoring it won’t help it pass; instead, ask yourself what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what you can do to soothe yourself to help these negative feelings pass. Where do you feel it in your body? Is your throat tight? Do you need to take a shower and just sob to get it out? Do you need to make yourself feel safe? Ask yourself these kinds of questions to address your needs.
Practice good self-care – Make comforting food. Go to bed early. Watch your favorite movie or TV show. Do whatever healing thing your body is telling you it needs from you in this moment. Maybe during the bout of depression leading up to this trauma anniversary your living space became cluttered and needs to be cleaned. Catching up on laundry so you can wear your most comfortable sweatshirt, doing dishes so you have your favorite mug, and making your space somewhere you feel safe and content is great self-care.
Take a step toward healing – Have you been avoiding getting into care so you can see a counselor? Has it been a long time since you spoke to someone? Are you already in care and just need to do some introspective work? Assess where you are on your healing journey. Trauma anniversaries are opportunities to sit in uncomfortable feelings and identify your needs. Write down what you’re feeling and where they may be coming from. Try journaling or mind mapping—get artsy and creative with it if you find that soothing.
Whatever comes up for you during your trauma anniversary, whether it’s a particular day or an entire season, take a breath and accept where you are in that moment—acknowledge it, validate it, assess what you need, and take care of yourself. Most of all, be kind to yourself and work through what you’re experiencing so you can move forward into a healthier space.
If you need help accessing care or want help with ideas on how to practice self-care, reach out to your community health workers on Facebook at Broomfield and Boulder County Community Outreach.
Mental Health Partners Access Line: 303-443-8500
Community Health Worker Warm-Line: 303-545-0852
Ashley Wallis is a Community Health Worker with Mental Health Partners servicing Boulder County as well as an Army veteran and mental health advocate.