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Coping with the Anniversary of COVID-19

How to cultivate hope and meaning during a difficult anniversary.

  • Anniversaries of difficult events can trigger unwanted memories and emotional distress.
  • National COVID-19 Day on March 11 marks the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic.
  • To get through a trying anniversary, reach out to loved ones and friends for extra support and try to keep a routine because anniversaries can shake our sense of normalcy.
  • Honoring the ups and downs of your life experience, limiting your media exposure, and trying to help someone else can also be soothing. If needed, seek out professional help.

National COVID-19 Day on March 11 gives us a needed opportunity to begin to process our collective grief and find hope for the future. The purpose of National COVID-19 Day is to help the United States navigate our collective grief, encourage one another, and embrace hope for what is ahead. National COVID-19 Day will take place on March 11, 2021, which is the one-year anniversary since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

National COVID-19 day, used with permission
Source: National COVID-19 day, used with permission

National COVID-19 Day and strategic partners have created an online platform for people from all walks of life to observe shared grief, come together virtually, or volunteer with proper safety protocols to recognize others in our communities and country making a difference and provide support from caring listeners.

Still, several studies have shown that some national anniversaries are difficult for a lot of people. It’s common for anniversaries to trigger unwanted memories and emotional distress among those affected. Following are some steps you can take to help you cope on National COVID-19 Day.

Seek social support

Study after study shows that social support is one of the biggest predictors of resilience after trauma. Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones and friends for extra support around trying anniversaries. This doesn’t mean you have to rehash or relive the events all over again. Only share what you feel comfortable sharing. If you don’t want to talk about things, that’s okay. Just spending time and being with others can be healing in and of itself.

National COVID-19 Day provides a way you can get involved online, as do other COVID-19 online gatherings and events, such as the 2nd Annual Spiritual First Aid Summit and COVID-19 Memorial Service taking place on National COVID-19 Day. Expressions of public gatherings—even virtual ones—can be powerful and healing. Engaging in community activities can help us remember that we are not alone, and we will get through this pandemic.

Engage in the familiar

Troubling anniversaries can shake your sense of “normalcy” and make you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. Because anniversaries can disrupt your daily life, trying to keep a routine can be helpful. Attempt to create some space in your day or days surrounding the anniversary for the familiar. Carving out calm amidst what can feel like chaos can help buffer against the roller-coaster effect. Seeking out familiar places, schedules, and people can be soothing and comforting.

Honor your story

Your story about you is important. We are hardwired for story. We even live in the midst of a story. Journalist Michele Weldon notes, “We all lead lives worthy of preservation. Our stories need to be told, if to no one else, then only to ourselves…” You may feel tempted to try and avoid the difficult parts of your life story, such as traumatic anniversaries. However, I would encourage you to look for ways to remember and honor your whole story. It’s important to learn how to preserve your entire life experience, including the ups and the downs. There is no one “right” way to honor your complete story. This is not something to be rushed and takes time. Be patient with yourself and the recovery process.

Limit media exposure

It’s okay to be informed and follow media stories around challenging anniversaries. However, be aware: Too much media exposure can increase your distress. If you aren’t careful, seeing images over and over again that remind you of what happened can trigger strong negative reactions.

Maybe you have some unanswered questions lingering from what you went through and are hoping the news will help you fill in the gap. You’re probably better off talking with a close friend or others close to what happened for accurate information, rather than trying to find closure in the news. In addition to hopefully getting more information, you’ll also be getting that ever-so-important social support.

National COVID-19 Day, used with permission
Source: National COVID-19 Day, used with permission

Do something for someone else

Helping others is good for fostering resilience. Research has found assisting someone else in need is an effective way for finding meaning and purpose in your own struggle. That’s the reason behind National COVID-19 Day’s service opportunities.

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren, a social psychologist at Hope College, notes that helping others fosters a sense of meaning, purpose, and even feelings of happiness. Similarly, Santa Clara University clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Plante writes, "In a nutshell, if you want to cope better with stress, serve others. Stress management and resilience can be enhanced by connecting with others in need.”

Get professional help if needed

Here are a few signs you would benefit from additional professional support. You can’t shake the distressing thoughts and emotions brought back by the anniversary. The distress triggered by the anniversary starts to interfere with your everyday life. If you notice others are encouraging you to seek professional help, this may also be a good indicator you should seek help. Lastly, if you find yourself thinking about harming yourself or someone else, then call a mental health professional or 9/11 right away. More resources on when and how to get help are available at socialworkers.org, apa.org, counseling.org, psychiatry.org, and aamft.org.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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