There’s no type of heartbreak like the one after losing a loved one. We spend months, sometimes even years, trying to readjust our lives to fill the void of their absence. Just when we feel we’ve overcome the painful grieving stage, a special date or anniversary comes up, immediately returning us to that distressing and grueling state of mind.
This is called the “Anniversary Effect.” Psychology Today defines it as a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.
For those of us who have lost a loved one, we know that birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or other special dates are harder to manage than other days—sometimes even subconsciously.
These days can make us feel anxious, depressed and alone. We start to feel like all the progress we’ve made has been lost.
While the Anniversary Effect is undeniable, we have an opportunity to turn our grieving into a moment of commemoration and celebration for the life lived. Keep reading to learn more about ways to get through those hard days.
Symptoms of the Anniversary Effect
It’s important to understand your emotions during difficult days. If you’re cognizant of how you feel, you can keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed or depressed by internal thoughts.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs researched the Anniversary Effect, and found a range of symptoms. The most common ones include intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and moods, and arousal and reactivity.
- Intrusion is often the most common symptom to experience around an emotional time. This feeling can bring you back to the person or an event, causing you to replay memories in your head. It’s like the past is intruding on your present.
- Avoidance happens when the memory and pain is too strong to handle, naturally causing a state of denial. This may keep you from acknowledging the date or avoiding the people who remind you of that day or person.
- Negative alterations in cognitions and moods affect how you treat yourself and other people. Dealing with stress or repressing memories can make it hard to connect with others like you normally do.
- Arousal and reactivity create a feeling of being on edge. You can’t quite relax and might find it hard to focus, sleep or communicate with others.
Perhaps you recognize one or two of these emotions in yourself as meaningful dates approach. Acknowledging that we feel “off” is a critical step to overcoming your struggles.
How to Overcome Negative Feelings and Emotions
After acknowledging the reality of how we feel during these anniversaries and significant days, we need to learn from it and make it better. There are ways to make these painful dates not feel so painful, such as celebrating their memory, talking to family members and loved ones, and joining a support group.
Celebrate Their Memory
Instead of avoiding your feelings or keeping thoughts to yourself, lean into them. Consider celebrating the life of your loved one.
Was there something that they loved to do? What was their favorite song or favorite food? What traditions did you enjoy together?
Take little moments and memories like these and recreate them in their spirit. For example, you could visit their favorite restaurant with other friends and family. By doing this, you’re creating new memories and commemorating their life along the way. This can replace your feelings of sorrow with something more uplifting and celebratory.
Talk to Friends and Family
Loved ones know you better than anyone and they want to see you happy. Seeking comfort in friends and family can be a helpful way to manage your grief and get through a dark time.
Your friends and family always want to help and be there for you, they might just not know how.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and acknowledge that you’re struggling. Whether you want to talk and reminisce, or need a distraction from your grief, you know who to go to.
Join a Support Group
If you aren’t ready to talk to your friends and family, consider joining a support group. Support groups are beneficial because you’ll meet other people going through similar experiences. They become a resource for you, as you also support them through their own grief.
Here are some grief support groups in Northeast Ohio.
Interested in More Grief Support Resources?
Whether we choose to talk about our emotions or find comfort in healing tips like the ones mentioned above, we all grieve differently. If you’re interested in more grief support resources, subscribe to our blog and receive helpful articles like this directly in your inbox.