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A post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reaction refers to the fact that many people who have experienced a traumatic event re-experience the feelings they had at the time, on the anniversary of the event.  This is called an “Anniversary Reaction” and may at first appear to come completely out of the blue because most people don’t expect it.  There are a whole range of symptoms running the gamut from feeling upset for a couple of days to the other extreme of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder anniversary reactions.  The memories surrounding the event start coming back as the anniversary approaches and of course you can never totally escape all reminders, so this is actually very common.

What causes post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reactions?

There are a number of theories on how memories are created and how memories are stored in our brains that result in a post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reaction.  This is an ongoing area of study in the scientific community and some theorize that traumatic memories are significant because they contain specific details about how dangerous or frightening the event was, so that people will play it safe and seek protection for themselves when they’re faced with a similar situation.  These traumatic memory details inform the person on what they should be fearful of, how to look at a certain set of circumstances and how to think and feel in that same situation.

What symptoms do post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reactions cause?

If someone we loved has died then the most common reaction is a sense of sadness and varying levels of grief.  However, if this loss was associated with a traumatic event, or if we have experienced a traumatic event, when an anniversary of the traumatic event rolls around, these feelings return in different degrees of intensity.  Most religions offer ceremonies commemorating the anniversary of someone’s death in order to support those who are grieving.  At the very worst, people can even feel such grief and depression at these times they even think about suicide.  The symptoms of  post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reactions may also be experienced as any or all of the following PTSD symptoms:

  • Avoidance – People respond by trying to avoid anything associated with the traumatic event.  This includes avoiding people, places and situations associated with the event.  Any way that they can avoid stimuli related to the trauma is what’s on the agenda.  When Veteran’s Day comes along, many veterans avoid the celebrations and parades and because they remind them of traumatic experiences.  Another example of avoidance related to an anniversary reaction would be avoiding riding in a car around the anniversary of a car accident.  This is typical for those with PTSD. 
  • Increased Arousal – This is a sense of being nervous and jumpy.  The anniversary of the traumatic event triggers memories that can even keep you up at night and prevent you from focusing or concentrating.  People put up their guard as they want to keep this from happening again.  Difficulty sleeping, headaches, feeling on edge and easily startled may seem irrational to others, but are expectable anniversary reactions to traumatic events.  
  • Re-experiencing – This is the most common symptom of anniversary reaction and typical of people diagnosed with PTSD.  The anniversary triggers memories that play and replay over and over again in the person’s mind.  Many of the feelings they originally experienced during and after the traumatic event reappear.  For example, a rape victim is going to feel scared, vulnerable have difficulty trusting others and may be filled with terror on the anniversary of this trauma.

Post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reactions often typically include other symptoms such as increased general anxiety, depression and sadness and even physical symptoms.  No two people experience the anniversary of a traumatic event in the same way.  But one thing is certain, in most people there will be a reaction on or around the anniversary date.

What to do to get better?

People usually start feeling better within a few days to weeks after the post traumatic stress disorder anniversary reaction starts. Some ways to cope with anniversary reactions are to make plans for that day to be with trusted others and engage in activities to distract yourself from the reactions and build in enjoy joyful moments to your day. People may also choose to participate in commemorative ceremony such as visiting a grave, charitable and blood donation, helping others with similar traumas, or dedicating the day to spend good times with family.

Because our treatment for PTSD, depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful PTSD treatment programs.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from PTSD, depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our PTSD treatment provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for PTSD depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.