Understanding anxiety on the anniversary of the pandemic lockdown
The other night a friend told me via ‘Zoom’ that she had been hearing about people being triggered and struggling with anxiety at the anniversary of the lockdown, and are questioning why they felt this way.
Anecdotally I can tell you this renewed anxiety is real. Around the middle of November every single year for the past 11 years, I start to feel stressed out and kind of panicky. And every year in November I struggle with this anxiety until I realize ‘oh that’s why.’
Mid November of 2009 I woke up with partial paralysis after overcoming a bad stomach flu. I ended up in the hospital with a diagnosis of Guillain Barre Syndrome or GBS, a rare neurological condition, which at it’s worst point left me unable to walk, and with paralysis mostly down my left side. It took over a year of treatment to get me out of the ‘woods’, and over the next 10 years I have dealt with awful residual symptoms.
Now every November…the panic comes back. I don’t know if it’s the ‘smell’ of the season, the types of clothes that I’m wearing, or that it falls just after my Birthday and before (American) Thanksgiving, but I feel enormous anxiety. I am certain it is because that is the anniversary of my traumatic event, my GBS onset.
And here we are, a year after our trauma of the initial lockdown, in the midst of a long recovery period and living with many residual repercussions & symptoms. We’re dealing with job loss, business closures, school closures, and overall social & economic stress. And let’s not forget constant sickness and death.
You or a family member may have had COVID, and hopefully recovered. Some are experiencing ongoing residual symptoms who I see being referred to as ‘long-haulers’. From someone with over a decade as a long hauler of GBS, I can tell you it gets easier, but it is mentally gruelling. It can also be debilitating, frustrating, unpredictable and isolating.
All of this is extremely stressful and seems to be heightened these days.
This ‘Anniversary Trigger Effect’ is not just anecdotal. Don’t just take it from me, take it from the doctors are scientists:
The American Psychology Association explains the Anniversary Trigger Effect like this:
“Anniversary dates of traumatic events can reactivate thoughts and feelings from the actual event, and survivors may experience peaks of anxiety and depression.
Around the anniversary of a traumatic event, people are likely to remember events clearly and many will feel emotions more intensely than usual. Reliving the sadness is a very natural part of the healing process. But there is no one right way to heal. “
The Awareness Center also explains it like this: “Research shows that our brains store painful, sad or traumatic memories in an easily accessible way so that we can be reminded of, and warned off, the dangers to protect us from something similar happening again.“
The “Anniversary Effect”, is a collection of disturbing feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on or around a date that marks a significant event. You could be feeling sad, irritable, anxious, emotionally shutdown, or unable to sleep, and a quick glance at the calendar will help you to connect this emotional state to a traumatic event. It might be the birthday of a loved-one you have lost, the due date of a miscarried baby, or the day an assault or accident happened. As that date nears, bad memories start to resurface, and you will realize that you are experiencing the annual echo of a trauma.
Some psychology researchers think that the anniversary reaction should be listed as a symptom of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), because even though being reminded of difficult feelings around an anniversary is a very common and normal part of the grieving process it can be really distressing. Anniversary reactions are also a signal that you are not yet over the trauma of your experience, and need to process or work through your grief.
As with many psychological phenomena the anniversary effect happens for a reason. Research shows that our brains store painful, sad or traumatic memories in an easily accessible way so that we can be reminded of, and warned off, the dangers to protect us from something similar happening again. For example, a driver involved in a car crash will have memories that provide information about what the driver should be afraid of, how she or he should see those situations, and how to feel and what to think in those circumstances. The anniversary of the crash will trigger these memories causing you to, in a way, have to live through some of those difficult and painful experiences and emotions again.”
If you are experiencing the ‘Anniversary Trigger Effect’, a year after the onset of the pandemic lockdown, know that you are not alone. Knowing that helps me a bit as we are truly all in this together. I also spoke to my Neurologist about my heightened anxiety and we worked through a program to manage it, as well I upped my yoga and meditation practice. Please don’t be ashamed if you are struggling with anxiety. Mental Health issues are so real and should be treated as seriously as any other health issues. In the meantime, I will continue to wear my mask and I am upping my mask game since I figure we may be wearing masks well, maybe forever. Stay strong, safe and healthy my friends, and by the way, there is zero weakness in asking for help. Sending strength & light to everyone! Pamela xx