This month marks the one year anniversary of the covid-19 related shutdowns in the United States. A year ago this week, the World Health Organization declared covid-19 to be a global pandemic, and we began to feel the fallout almost overnight. It’s hard to fathom that we’ve been living like this for a year now. If you’ve noticed yourself feeling more tender emotionally as we approach the anniversary of life with covid-19, you’re not alone. You may be remembering what you were doing before the world shut down, or thinking about who you were close to at the time. Anniversaries give us an opportunity to reflect on the past year, which can sometimes feel good, but in cases of trauma they can leave us feeling distressed.
We have collectively experienced a trauma over the last year, between upending our normal lives suddenly and the loss of over half a million lives from the pandemic. Some feelings that might be coming up are anger, sadness, disbelief, fatigue, overwhelm, depression, fear, relief, or something else entirely. Whatever you’re feeling is valid. You might be wondering why all these feelings are coming up now, instead of over the past year. Even if you’re not consciously thinking about it, you’re probably aware on some level that this month marks a year of covid life. The reason all of these feelings are being stirred up right now is because of something called the anniversary effect.
The anniversary effect, or anniversary reaction, is when you experience disturbing thoughts, feelings, or memories in reaction to the date of a traumatic event.
Sometimes people experience this around the anniversary or a death or traumatic memory, like an accident. Not everyone experiences the anniversary effect, and the reaction can vary from person to person. If you are experiencing it now, try to be gentle with yourself. This has been an extremely difficult situation all around, and you don’t need to punish yourself for feeling emotionally overwhelmed right now.
The stress of this anniversary might mean you need to cope differently than you have been up until now. Here are some ideas for how to cope with the anniversary effect:
Treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend
As we mentioned above, make sure to be extra gentle with yourself right now. It sounds easy to just be nice to yourself, right? But it’s actually a lot harder in practice than we often expect. We often grow up being hard on ourselves, and it can be hard to break the habit. It can sometimes help to imagine that you’re talking to your best friend instead of yourself. How would you support them? How would you comfort them? See if you can provide those things for yourself.
Remind yourself that this will pass
Anniversaries don’t last forever. Even if you’ve felt your stress level or emotional load increase over the last few weeks, know that these emotions will pass with time. You won’t feel this tightly wound forever, and you will go back to your baseline at some point.
Stay off social media
It can be hard to distract yourself when you’re on social media. The algorithm rewards people for sharing all the time, but it can be so draining to spend your day watching instagram story after instagram story when there is something difficult going on. It can be hard to avoid reminders of life in normal times or news about the pandemic when you’re constantly online. Many social media apps also have a memory feature, where they show you posts you made on a certain day in the past. This feature is normally a lot of fun, but it might be painful right now. It’s okay to turn it off for a while if you are able to.
Give yourself permission to unplug, even for a few days at a time. If you think you’ll be tempted to go back online, or if you find yourself mindlessly navigating to your social media apps, delete them off your device. Be a hermit for a few days. Social media will still be there when you’re feeling more refreshed.
Tune back into your body
When we’re emotionally activated, it can be easy to miss what’s going on in our physical body. You get so wrapped up in your thoughts that you forget to check in with your needs. Really tune into your physical self. What is your body telling you? Do you need to take your medicine? Eat? Drink some water? Move your body around? Stretch? Sleep? What would be comforting to you in this moment? Try to honor those messages.
Talk to someone
It may also be helpful to talk out your feelings with someone. We’re all going through a lot right now, so make sure whoever you talk to has space to be there for you. It can be healing to put your experience into words, especially when you’re talking to someone who makes you feel safe and cared for. Therapy is a wonderful space to process your experience during the covid-19 pandemic. Even if you have a hard time feeling vulnerable and talking about your feelings, try speaking them out loud. You can even just talk out loud to yourself or write in a journal if you’re not ready to loop anyone else in.
Build in time to relax and recharge
When you’re emotionally drained, you need a lot of rest. Many of us haven’t been resting fully for a long time – we’re working long hours, we’re anxious, we’re scared. Rest is vital to self care. If you’re working long hours, find a way to scale back. Establish boundaries with work and ask for help when you need it. If you’re overcommitted socially, say no to the next zoom get together or socially distanced walk. Put something on your to-do list every day that will help you rest and relax. No need to multitask. It can be something small, like a nap, or you can get as creative with it as you want. Just make sure you physically add it to your calendar or to do list so it doesn’t get forgotten.