Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Traumaversaries are the “anniversaries” of traumatic events. They can land on a specific day, or an approximate time during the year. It could be that the bad time is October 17th specifically, maybe the month of October or maybe even the season of Fall. If the traumaversary is a specific day, it’s important to note that it doesn’t mean it’s only that day that may be triggering, overwhelming or otherwise upsetting. It could be the surrounding days as well, or even weeks.
A traumaversary can affect someone in any number of ways. They may feel more sad, angry, anxious, etc than usual. They may also feel these things suddenly if they don’t typically feel them. Emotional reactions may be heightened. This may mean that things that wouldn’t normally get an emotional reaction may get one, or a stronger one than usual.
It’s also possible that someone may have more flashbacks and nightmares than usual, or suddenly have them if they don’t have them usually. They may also get triggered more easily or triggered by things that normally wouldn’t trigger them.
People may experience these things at certain times of the year that aren’t traumaversaries but may remind them of their trauma like Mother’s/Father’s Day, the holiday season, etc. The reactions they have may be similar to traumaversaries.
While they can be hard, there are some tips and ways you can prepare for a traumaversary (or another time of the year you may need extra care).
Have a plan in place: Since you know when the traumaversary will be, it’s practical to start putting things together well in advance (for instance, maybe it will take a month or two to build a self-care box you’re happy with. Maybe in the week before, you can make a list of comfort shows, or a musical playlist that could help). I have suggested some coping strategies below but you can plan for any coping strategy that works for you, whether it’s to buy a book you plan to read during the time, resist watching the new season of your favourite show so that you can binge watch it during the time, practicing breathing exercises in advance or other things that may help you.
Making a self-care box is one of my go-to suggestions because you can personalize this however you want or need. It is something you put together that you can pull out as needed. Some ideas for things to include may be: bubble bath, bath bombs, face masks, journal & pen, a favourite treat/drink, positive affirmations, letters from loved ones, sensory items, fidget toys, colouring books or other favourite items. These are only a few ideas and you can include whatever you want! The box can be as big or as small as you want. A lot of people enjoy decorating the box but it’s not necessary, though that might be comforting in its own way. Having this box made in advance will give you something easy to access when you need to practice some self-care, or otherwise could benefit from the items in it.
Another suggestion is to plan for support. This might mean letting your friends know in advance that you would appreciate them checking in on you (or that you may not be as available). You could also talk to them in advance about asking whether it’s okay to message them or call them if you need. If you are in therapy, it’s possible communicating with your therapist can help as they might be willing to make themselves more available during your traumaversary or plan for additional sessions. If you are not a part of a support group, it might benefit you to look into one (online or in person) in advance to have that additional support during your traumaversary.
Grounding techniques can be useful for flashbacks, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, etc. It might be good before the anniversary to try different grounding techniques that may help so that you are prepared. Here are some grounding techniques, but this doesn’t even touch the huge array of possible techniques. Please do some research and find ones that work for you. There are mental grounding techniques that focus on things to do with your mind, and sensory ones that focus more on your body. Trying grounding techniques for the first time when you are calm may make it easier to try and use them when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Once you figure out if a grounding technique helps, please write it down so it’s more easily accessible to you when you need it. You could make a list of different helpful techniques, or a step by step guide to the most helpful (or a few of the most helpful) technique(s) for you, that you can follow if you feel panicked or otherwise need grounding. In the moment, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out grounding techniques for the first time or even remember which ones have helped. This is why writing it down and having it accessible can be helpful. (You could have it on your phone and/or include it in a self-care box or another place you find useful.)
Everyone is different and there is no universal rule for how you should handle a traumaversary. For some, they might need to plan in advance to have a lot more time alone to sit with their feelings and practice self care. For others, they might want to make sure their time around their traumaversary is booked up with distractions. Some might try to reclaim their traumaversary by planning something really fun, or a meaningful activity to do to try and give it some positive memories. Someone may do a combination of different things. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but it is something you need to think about and try and plan for. (It’s also okay if you plan things one way and end up realizing it’s not what you need and changing your mind.)
If it’s possible you may be too overwhelmed to remember to do things, try to set reminders on your phone or put sticky notes throughout your living space. These reminders might include things like eating, drinking water, taking meds and anything else you need to do. They might include simple reminders to do some self-care.
Positive self-talk: You can and will get through this. Build yourself up before the time that is an issue, and do things to reassure yourself during the time, especially if you start feeling something is wrong. You can use positive and reassuring self talk to help this. Tell yourself that you are safe. That you are not who you were when your trauma happened. That you can get through this. That this day/week/season will be over soon. Remind yourself of all the progress you have made since your trauma. This might include writing in a journal about what you have done since your trauma, such as things you are proud about. Naming the emotions you feel about that day might take some of the power out of them. If you have trouble putting them into words, you might try filling out worksheets such as emotional inventories, or writing about the first emotion that comes to mind and trying to keep writing, and seeing what else comes out of it.
Avoiding triggers: You may know what triggers you have that relate to the time coming up. You may normally be able to handle those triggers, and feel they aren’t a big problem. However, you may be more sensitive during the time which is an issue. Take extra precautions to avoid triggers and other things that might upset you. You may want to stay away from social media, or certain sites you find can be harder to deal with. You may want to mute certain words, so that you don’t see posts involving certain subjects. Even if you normally can handle those subjects, take time to consider if you might be more sensitive to them on a certain day. This particularly applies to issues with holidays. For instance, there are likely to be a lot more mentions of mothers and things they do on Mother’s Day than on other days of the year. Even if something isn’t triggering, it could be extremely stressful or difficult during the time you’re worrying about. You may want to ask friends not to bring up certain subjects during that time. You may want to put up boundaries that you haven’t felt were necessary a month earlier. You may want to limit contact with people who give you extra stress, or overwhelm you. Those people might frequently need help or support that you are normally happy to give. It’s okay if you don’t feel up to giving that support to them at that time. You need to take care of yourself.
Feeling safe: Do your best to set things up so that you will feel safe. This might mean surrounding yourself with people who feel safe, and doing what you can to make sure you aren’t going to have to interact with people who make you feel on edge. It might mean making sure you have comfort items nearby and in their best condition (for instance, if you have a favourite hoodie, make sure it’s clean and ready to wear). It might mean making an extra effort to turn your bedroom (or apartment, or car) into a safe space. This can especially apply if your bedroom or car look the same as they did when the trauma happened. Redecorating those spaces to look and feel different may help them feel more safe. Even if you’re in a different place, redecorating can be helpful to making that place feel more safe, often because it will feel like it reflects your style or just feels more like it belongs to you. Redecorating might mean moving things around, replacing things, removing things or adding new things. Your bed might feel much better with a change of sheets. It might help to add decorative items that cheer you up, or make you smile or laugh, or just make a distinctive change in the appearance of a place. Sometimes moving furniture can make a room feel like a completely new place, like changing the position of a dresser or turning your bed 90 degrees. Sometimes small, simple changes can be huge, such as a wrap around the steering wheel of your car. Feeling safe can mean a lot of different things, but the key thing is to do whatever you can to make the time that you’re concerned about less stressful.
Traumaversaries and other stressful times of year can be hard to get through. They may make you feel vulnerable, or sad, or angry, in ways you don’t feel for the rest of the year (or at least not as often/intensely.)That’s okay. There is nothing wrong with that. Accept that it’s okay to feel things. Give yourself the time and space to let those emotions out. Put extra care into making sure you’ll get through that time and get better. You can do this.