Managing Distress on the Anniversary of a Traumatic Event
How to help you manage thoughts and feelings that can be reactivated by an anniversary.
The anniversary of a traumatic event can trigger distressing memories and emotions. It reminds us that unpredictable events can touch us all. We may recall pain, suffering, and loss. The intensity of our emotions can take us by surprise and feel overwhelming. We can’t erase the memories or turn off natural emotional reactions. We can choose how we respond to them.
Responding to Anniversary Reactions
Anticipate a response
Know that it’s normal to have strong feelings around the anniversary date of a traumatic event. Let others who care about you know that this may be a difficult time. Ask for the support you may need. Arrange your schedule to allow a time and a place to grieve if needed.
Allow your reaction
Don’t try to ignore or deny your feelings. You may feel grief, anger, anxiety, exhaustion, or something else. You may just feel numb. These are all normal reactions. Talking with people who care about you can help you process your feelings. Cry if you need to. Some people find it helpful to let feelings flow out on paper or address them in a creative way, such as with painting or music.
Find meaningful ways to honor the day
Perhaps you have your own rituals. You may prefer to be with others —family, friends, or the community. Commemorative ceremonies or activities allow us to express our feelings and remind us that we’re not alone in our grief. Helping others can be another positive way to mark the day such as volunteering or making a donation. This can be an antidote to the sadness and helplessness that resurge on anniversaries.
Leaning on others who care about you can help you feel stronger in difficult times. Talking to others keeps you from being alone with troubling memories. You can get other viewpoints and a chance to share your feelings. It’s also an opportunity to enjoy time together and allow your focus to shift away from thoughts of the tragedy.
Remind yourself of your resilience
Anniversaries can make us feel powerless and fearful all over again. The images we see, the stories we hear, and our own memories can increase our stress. Change your perspective by recognizing the strength you’ve used to move forward from the event to where you are now. That strength is always with you, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Keep actively look for what’s positive in your life and what makes you grateful.
Find ways to restore balance
If your mind is caught up in “what-ifs” or “if-onlys,” try to bring your thoughts to this moment instead. See if you can stay in the here and now. Focus on your breathing and take nice slow, deep breaths. Try to release the stress from your body as you breathe out. Try these simple techniques or other activities that help you relax and release tension—reading a good book, walking outdoors, or enjoying a hobby. Avoid substance use or other unhealthy coping methods.
Cigna Can Help
If you have Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coverage through Cigna, we are available by phone at
The information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice and is not a substitute for proper medical care provided by a doctor. Cigna assumes no responsibility for any circumstances arising out of the use, misuse, interpretation or application of the information provided.
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