How to deal with sad anniversaries

When the anniversary of a painful event comes around, you may feel a range of emotions. This is sometimes called an ‘anniversary reaction’. Learn more here about common reactions to anniversaries and how to cope with these sad times.

This can help 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.

Man looking outside window

What’s an anniversary reaction?

An anniversary reaction is an emotional response to a certain day or time of the year. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a difficult breakup, or any kind of traumatic event, when a painful anniversary rolls around, you might feel that initial pain all over again.

For example, if you had a bad breakup around Christmas, you might feel down during Christmas the following year because it reminds you of that painful experience.

Common reactions

Common reactions to a sad anniversary include:

  • An aftershock – this is a burst of grief that you might experience weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event. It can be triggered by a variety of things – a song, a movie or a place – and can feel just as strong as the original pain.

  • A setback – one day you’re feeling like you’re coping well and moving on, and the next you feel like you’re back at square one and falling apart all over again. Setbacks can take you by surprise and are often hard to predict.

  • A recurrence of grief – you might feel confused or upset to find that your grief hasn’t subsided, and may even feel stronger, when the anniversary arrives.

What to do

Remember that the anticipation of the anniversary is often worse than the actual day.

Here are some things to do and keep in mind:

  • Keep your usual routine with work or activities that you enjoy, sometimes you need a break or a temporary distraction from those negative feelings.

  • Spend time with friends and family, and draw strength from them. We all like to feel loved and cared for during difficult times.

  • Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise. Accepting, or leaning into your feelings can help you process them.

  • Write down how you’re feeling. Putting your feelings on paper can help ease your mind.

  • If it feels like your grief is getting worse or interfering with your life, get professional help so that you can sort things out.