Sometimes you can trace the reason why you're feeling sad, irritable or anxious. One look at the calendar and you connect the dots from your current emotional state to the traumatic event. For example, the birthday of someone who's no longer alive, the date of an accident, a natural disaster or a miscarriage, just to name a few.
Sometimes finding the Anniversary Effect isn't as easy to trace because the event doesn't have a time-specific relationship. It may be more of a seasonal experience. For example, Autumn reminds you of when your child left for college, or a hot humid day reminds you of the time you signed your divorce papers. Or for me, the sounds of Christmas music on the radio takes me back to the trauma of a botched robbery that nearly took my life.
When you live with a mood disorder, you need to realize that you live with two calendars. One that keeps track of time, while the other stores emotional experiences. Anniversary Reactions signal that you are still working on moving through the trauma of your experience - and it is a normal part of the grieving process.
What You Can Do
1. Make sure you take time to glance at a calendar each month - and explore dates and memories attached to such dates. This framework can help prepare you for the possibility of an Anniversary Reaction.
2. The anniversary date is not the only day that you might feel out of sorts. Remind yourself that days or weeks leading up to an anniversary date - and even ones after, may be tough ones for you.
3. Anniversaries of public trauma, crises or disasters receive significant media coverage. Often, media outlets revisit distressing imagery. Limit your watching of TV, reading of newspapers and visiting Internet news sites around those dates.
4. Express your memories and feelings when an Anniversary Effect happens. You can do this by talking with a family member or friend, journaling, blogging or finding creative ways to express your inner experiences.
5. Make sure you take good care of yourself during these times. Self-care, support and comfort will help ground you as you move through trauma.
6. If you find that you're struggling with your trauma, remember that you're not alone. Loss affects each of us differently, so don't put a time limit on your grief. If you feel overwhelmed or cannot navigate successfully through your Anniversary Reaction, consider seeking the counsel of a mental healthcare professional.
Editorial Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression" by The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.