As we approach the date of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the COVID
lockdowns, I find my mind going back in time more frequently. I have been replaying and
recalling past interactions and memories that took place leading up to the official start of
quarantine. For example, I find myself more aware of the one-year mark as the weather
becomes warmer and sunnier. This one-year mark and spring feel triggers memories of final
in person therapy sessions and the very vivid memory of closing up my office before
heading home (unknowingly) for an entire year.
What is this exactly?
This is a perfect example the anniversary effect. The anniversary effect is a very common
side effect of trauma triggered by dates signifying upsetting experiences like the loss of
someone or the memory of something traumatic. The triggered response can play out in a
variety of ways: through dreams, or randomly recalling specific interactions or memories
leading up to or about that significant time. The reactions and specific triggers will vary by
person. While the COVID pandemic is a collective trauma we have all experienced, it is one
we have all experienced differently and with different types of impact. Some of us have lost
loved ones, some of us contracted the virus, some of us lost jobs, the list of losses and
impact go on. Based on a variety of factors, including our own internal wiring and our exact
experience of the impact of COVID, how we experience the anniversary will vary.
Why does this happen?
When a stressful or traumatic event occurs, our nervous system activates as a way to protect
us and prepare us for something physically or mentally demanding. It gives us what is
needed to endure a prolonged or difficult situation. Our bodies then store all the memories;
the good, the scary, and the painful. It makes note of significant things that caused harm and
remains on the lookout for them. So, when an anniversary of something like an unexpected
and unprecedented global pandemic rolls around, your body is on alert.
What this can look like/Feel like
If your body is now on the lookout for potential threats, that means your brain and body are
now working overtime to help fight off those threats. Your body is also picking up on
similarities with this year compared to last, which is why you may at times feel as if no time
has passed at all and you’re back in March 2020, even though you’re not. Common
symptoms of the anniversary effect include fatigue, sadness, irritability, anxiousness, anger,
guilt, emotional shut down, distraction, and trouble sleeping. Honestly, if you’re feeling
more off than usual as you get closer to the anniversary of the lockdown, it’s because of the
pandemic and anniversary effect. Please note, it’s possibly to have been experiencing many
of these symptoms already because we have been living in a prolonged trauma state for an
entire year at this point. There has not been space between the traumatic event and the
What You Can do
Use this information to go easy on yourself this week and for the next few weeks. It may hit
different knowing you’re going into year two of a global pandemic. Give yourself grace in
your own expectations of self and of others. Talk about this with your people, share in
discussions on others experiences of the anniversary effect. Identify where you can give
yourself some “you” time and say no to certain obligations in order to preserve your energy.
Allow yourself more nourishment: well balanced meals, good sleep, etc. Try to journal and
reflect on this time compared to last year.
One unique factor in this process is usually the anniversary allows for a lot of reflection
with the help of space and time. The difference here is we are still actively in our trauma.
The pandemic and the impact of it isn’t gone. If the reflection isn’t there and you’re still in
survival mode, that is okay. An entire year of your life has passed. This can carry a lot of
weight and impact under the best of circumstances, so a year of your life passing while in a
pandemic is extra impactful. While we still can reflect, it is more challenging to do when
we are still actively living the trauma. It may be a struggle to identify the positive right now.
One thing that is undeniable is your resilience. You have survived an entire year of a
complete unknown with absolutely no experience or preparation. If this year has shown you
anything, it has shown your ability to do hard things.