How to deal with anniversaries

When the anniversary of a painful memory comes around, you may feel a range of emotions, which is sometimes called an 'anniversary reaction'. Learning more about common reactions to anniversaries and different ways to cope, can make a tough anniversary easier to deal with.

This could be for you if: 

  • A painful anniversary is approaching 
  • You want to know if what you’re feeling is normal 
  • You want to know how to handle an upcoming anniversary
Sad teen girl

What’s an anniversary reaction?

Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a harsh breakup, or any kind of traumatic event, when a painful anniversary rolls around, you might feel that initial pain all over again.  

An anniversary reaction is an emotional response to a certain day or time of the year.  If you had a really bad breakup around Christmas, you might feel down during Christmas the following year because you remember the painful experience.  Whatever the event may be, you can feel a roller coaster of emotions when dealing with the anniversary.

Common responses

It’s likely that you’ll feel some of the same feelings you had when the event happened, like sadness, pain, loneliness, and anger; but there are three main responses you’ll want to look out for:
  • Setbacks are unexpected but unavoidable frustrations or disappointments you’ll encounter in your efforts to build yourself back up after your loss.  They can come from things other people say to you, or from your own mind, and they create obstacles in your path to healing.  Setbacks might include rigidity, close-mindedness, self-doubt, bitterness, and anger – feelings that stop you from coping and rebuilding.
  • Aftershocks are bursts of grief that you might experience weeks, months, or even years after the traumatic event.  Sometimes, certain things act as a trigger– a song, movie, or place, for example – and brings on the painful emotions you first felt.  It’s a surge of strong feelings that might make you feel like you have to start the grieving process all over again.
  • Recurrence of grief is very common as the anniversary approaches. You might find yourself preoccupied with thoughts regarding what you went through and memories you had with that person. You might feel scared, confused, or upset when you find that your grief hasn’t subsided yet, and that it actually feels stronger when the anniversary arrives.
Dealing with an anniversary can be really hard, but remember that the depth of your love is not measured by the depth of your pain.  You can care about someone you’ve lost – whether it is by death, breakup, or other means – and still move on and be happy. 

What to do 

  • Remember that the anticipation of the anniversary is often worse than the actual day.
  • Keep busy with work or activities that you enjoy. Keeping your mind busy and distracted is a good way to block out those negative feelings.
  • Spend time with friends and family, and draw strength from them.  Sometimes you need to feel loved and cared for during difficult times, and it’s great to lean on your friends and family when you need to.
  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions, whether you are sad and feel a sense of loss or you find peace in the anniversary, let yourself experience your emotions.
  • Write down how you're feeling.  Sometimes getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper can ease your mind.
  • If it feels like your grief is getting worse or interfering with your life, make sure to get professional help so you can get things sorted out.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 12 August, 2015
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