This week and the days around it will likely mark the anniversary of when each of us realized last year that life was about to change. In the past year we have weathered a great deal of uncertainty, transformed how we do nearly everything, and learned to live with new realities as they arose. It has not been an easy road, and I imagine counselors will be busy for years helping people heal from the traumas of this year.
I don’t make that last comment flippantly. A rough psychological definition of trauma is an event or events that cause more stress than we have the ability to cope with, and I don’t know about you, but I think we have had ample opportunities to overtax our coping limits in the past year. I’m bringing this up because it’s important to be consciously aware of the anniversaries of traumatic events. Whether we consciously remember the dates of traumatic occurrences (or other dates that remind us of them) or not, our psyches and bodies can remember, and react to, them. These subconscious reactions lead to what is called the Anniversary Effect or Anniversary Reaction, which can look like increased anxiety, irritability, sadness, bad dreams, and other symptoms, around the anniversary of traumatic events. If we remind ourselves consciously of an upcoming trauma anniversary, we can take steps to minimize the anniversary effect.
The steps that can help will look different for everyone. Journaling, meditation, unplugging from social media or the news for a couple of days, talking about your feelings with someone who understands, creating art and/or poetry, spending time in nature, and engaging with your preferred spiritual disciplines are all good options. It’s important to let yourself feel what you need to feel, not to rush any grief you may be experiencing, and remember all the time that you are not alone. Parents, you may notice that your kids are having a rough week as well. They have the same ability to experience anniversary effects that adults do, but lack the life experience of having come through years’ worth of previous hardships to help them cope. They may need some extra attention this week, too.
As a religious leader I feel a special responsibility to advocate on behalf of people experiencing mental health concerns. My best way to do that is to share a bit of my own story. Being in therapy myself over the past few months has been a very positive experience, and one that I would definitely recommend. With a little effort put into finding the right therapist for me, I have begun a healing journey. If the stresses in your life are more than you can cope with on your own right now, finding a professional to talk with may be a great choice to make. I share this to show that there need be no stigma around seeking help for mental health challenges. We all have bumps in the road, and asking for help is much healthier than ignoring or repressing our emotions. Again, if this piece is making sense to you, please remember that you are not alone.
Blessings to you,
Assistant Minister for Children and Youth Faith Formation