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PTSD anniversary reactions occur when people become increasingly distressed on or around the anniversary of a traumatic experience.  It could be because the date brings on reminders but sometimes the memories just come out of the blue while doing other things.  These memories are known as “anniversary reactions” and range in severity from people being somewhat upset for a few moments, up to a couple of days to others becoming severely distressed.

What Causes PTSD Anniversary Reactions?

They may occur because of the way the traumatic experience is represented in one’s memory.  One theory is that these traumatic memories have specific information about how dangerous the event was for the purpose of protecting people from harm.  The memory tells individuals what to be afraid of and to perceive such situations possibly with fear and the memory informs them what to think in a similar situation.  It is easy to see how this would be an adaptive response to a life threatening situation.

Do PTSD Anniversary Reactions Bring About Certain Symptoms?

PTSD anniversary reactions may include the experience grief and sadness on or around the anniversary of the death of a loved one or someone close.  Because this is so common many religions even schedule ceremonies around the anniversary to support the grieving family.  Symptoms associated with PTSD anniversary reactions can become so severe that people may become clinically depressed and even think of suicide.  One way to describe severe PTSD anniversary reactions would be that they mirror PTSD symptoms.

PTSD Anniversary reactions include the following:

  • A re-experiencing of the event – This is very commonly associated with the anniversary of the trauma. The original feelings are brought up as well as the same physical response and thoughts that were going on when the event occurred.  If a woman was raped she may keep remembering the event, feel very fearful, anxious and unsafe on the anniversary of her rape.
  • An avoidance response – This is commonly associated with PTSD and is a common reaction on the anniversary of a trauma. Anything that is related to the trauma is avoided in order to protect the individual from experiencing the same feelings.  So people, places, and situations connected to the trauma are avoided.  If a veteran has fought in combat they may prefer to stay home and avoid parades or any other veterans on Veteran’s Day.  They want no reminders.  The rape victim described above may avoid the people, places and circumstances related to her victimization.  If someone’s been in a serious car accident they may want to avoid driving or even riding in a car for fear they may be in another accident.
  • Increased arousal – This is another reaction that individuals have on the anniversary of a traumatic event. They feel anxious and on edge.  The feelings may be so intense that they have trouble sleeping and it’s even hard to focus and concentrate.  This can turn into irritability, nervousness or just being more guarded about everything.  Increased arousal may result in feeing overly reactive and sensitive.

Some other symptoms of PTSD anniversary reactions could be increased anxiety and depression.  Some people experience physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, sweaty palms, muscle tension, etc.  It’s clear that there is no one classic anniversary reaction for everybody.  Everyone experiences their PTSD traumatic anniversarys differently.

Because our treatment for PTSD and depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  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 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 treatment center 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 and depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for PTSD, depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.