When Your Body Remembers Before Your Mind Does: Dealing with Annual-, Seasonal-, or Holiday-Based Triggers

thoughtful young ethnic plump lady in colorful clothes sitting in street near pink wall

So I know it’s December but I want to tell you about this one day in March. It’s one day when I always feel a little bit… OFF.” A clear sky doesn’t excite me, and I LOVE a sunny day…usually. But on this particular date, every year, my concentration gets fuzzy, my patience is a bit fried, and my sensitivity to others’ emotions gets way high.

In the days before the family group text, I could go the whole day wondering: what is wrong with me? And then I’d finally notice the date and remember: oh yeah. thats the day we lost not. one, but two loved ones. Then I’d call my mom so we could talk about it. Nowadays, the family starts sending encouragement to each other 1st thing on that day, so there’s a conscious awareness of it. But what’s trippy is that my body didn’t even need a reminder that the awful time is here. It knows down to the bones.

This is called an Anniversary Reaction and is defined by Dr. Jessica Hamblin et. al.1 as:

“An increase in distress around the anniversary of a traumatic event” ranging “from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction in which an individual experiences significant psychiatric or medical symptoms.”

It’s totally normal to get sad, anxious, or irritated around a particular time of year, date, or change in the weather.

These situation can be reminders to the body or “triggers” to remember old pain and sorrow.

This holiday season can raise an anniversary reaction for many of us.

If you get anniversary reactions around this time, or any time, here’s what you need to remember:

1: It doesn’t make you crazy, dramatic, or broken to get emotional on certain days about old stuff.

2: Often, these reactions pass as the days pass or you acknowledge the meaning of the day for you.

3: Developing a ritual for that day helps a lot. If you have the option, take the day and:

  • Honor the person you miss by off and: planning a dinner at their favorite restaurant.
  • Make that a mandatory beach day, no matter the weather.
  • Visit a meaningful location.
  • Volunteer with people who have the same type of hurt or loss as you.
  • Do something “rebellious” that that person would have never approved of and chuckle as you imagine their horror (powerless as they may be now).
  • Do any other activity that acknowledges the reason you’re upset and safely addresses your need.
  • Plan an extra session with a counselor.

How to know when to get more help:

1: The reaction is so intense that you feel unsafe, dangerous, or out of control,

2: The reaction impairs your ability to do work or at home tasks for more than 2 weeks, or

3: You have very little improvement after the 1st year. If year 2, 3, 4, 10 feels exactly the same every time, that’s too much to take on alone.

If something from your past keeps popping up year after year, check out the option to get EMDR therapy for it HERE. If you want to work with me on these issues CONTACT ME directly.

Reference:
1 https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/anniversary_reactions.asp

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