What Is A Trauma Anniversary?

Events in our life shape our life. Our memories can be more than mental: memories can be emotional and physical as well. Consider the recurring celebration of the holiday season at the end of every year. It has become somewhat of a modern “cult” cultural phenomenon to look forward to the (Northern Hemisphere) fall and winter months because of the colors, the change in clothing, the smells, the flavors, the holidays, and more. For example, there is a widespread phenomenon of “pumpkin spiced” foods, drinks, and anything else that can be scented or flavored during fall and autumn. People become so radically attached to these nostalgic sensations that they experience excitement through their whole body. Cravings, jitters, dreams, obsessive thinking, and even changing daily behavioral lifestyles all take place. Since this phenomenon is more positive, happy, and celebratory, it doesn’t undergo much criticism, shame, or stigma- of course, unless you detest the holidays, the fall, and the taste of pumpkin spice anything.

The same exact series of reactions takes place for someone who has experienced a significant traumatic event in their lives by way of a phenomenon called “The Anniversary Effect”. Much in the same way that someone’s “spider senses” kick in that a certain kind of feeling, reminder, or stimulus is coming, someone’s stress responses or symptoms of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, can kick in because the anniversary of a traumatic event is quickly coming.

Popular culture captured the anniversary effect in the character of Will Byers on the runaway Netflix hit series Stranger Things. In Season 1 of the show, Will was kidnapped by a supernatural force and held captive in a strange underworld parallel universe. Spoiler alert: he’s eventually rescued and brought home, relatively unscathed. Season 2 puts us right around the same time of year one year later and Will is having some adverse experiences including flashbacks, nightmares, and more. A doctor in the show explains he is experiencing “The Anniversary Effect”. His body and his brain are recalling the terrifying events of his kidnapping just one year before and reacting out of fear that it might happen again.

The Anniversary Effect and a Trauma Anniversary are incredibly common. In our next Q&As we will discuss how to prepare for a Trauma Anniversary and how to cope with the difficult symptoms of trauma during an anniversary season.

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