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10 Things to Do to Cope With the Anniversary of a Trauma

Many people around the world have a calendar date (one or more), they dread every year, even before it is near.

Anniversary trauma spans many areas: break-ups, job loss, death of a loved one, sexual assault and endless more. It can trigger flashbacks, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and deep mental and emotional re-traumatization. With time, pain can sometimes dissipate, but with a lot of traumas, no matter how much time passes, it can haunt you. I’ve found it’s debilitating, relentless and endless.

My trauma date is March 24, and every year I have to plan in advance to help me get through. Over the years, I’ve established some coping mechanisms, and productive distraction has been the best one. I’d like to share some to help unload some of the burden you may be carrying.

1. Try something new.

Do something alone or with some friends you have never done before, but always wanted to try, like a drawing class, a trip to your local farmers market or antique shop — get outside!

2. Pick a recipe and attempt to make it.

I love this one because it requires a lot of prep work and a lot of your concentration. There will be a lot of troubleshooting, redoing and then something to enjoy at the end. And if it’s healthy for you, that nourishment will make you feel extra good physically and psychologically.

3. Volunteer.

Spend the day giving back to your community or maybe something related to your trauma to help support other survivors. Think about food banks, museums, crisis lines, fundraisers, etc. I started volunteering at a rape crisis center and a cancer organization, and still do.

4. Board games.

Invite folks over and play a traditional board game. I personally like Scrabble because it only requires one other person, but I’ve also gotten wild with my “Golden Girls” version of Monopoly. Check and see if board gaming lounges are in your city like “Snakes & Lattes,” if you prefer to go out. Unlike video games, there’s conversation, it’s easier to eat while playing and often creates better memories in my opinion.

5. Dance.

Because who wants to go to the gym? Just kidding, that is a great option, too! The point is to get your body moving. Trauma can make you feel rigid and stiff. While the thought of it may make you feel anxious or shy, it will be worth it. I remember I did a dance class called Heels. We learned a sexy routine — in heels! Me, along with other super shy and anxious girls and guys, were stumbling about and laughing hysterically. I’ve never laughed so hard and I created friendships I still have today. Tip: invest in shoe grips!

6. Spend time with kids.

Offer to babysit for a close friend or family member and spend some quality time with their child or children. I find seeing the world from a child’s perspective is always a much needed breath of fresh air, and teaching them things along the way is the most beautiful feeling.

I remember taking my nieces, ages 4 and 8, to a contemporary art museum for the first time and watching them learn and be inspired caused me to stop and appreciate these moments. The experience has influenced them in the most incredible ways ever since, but I think they best part is they know how much I value them and genuinely care.

7. Create a vision board.

Flank yourself with magazines, glue, glitter, markers, pens/pencils, scissors, construction paper and cardboard and go at it! Envision what you want in terms of finances, career, love and family. Hang it where you can see it every day and let the manifestation begin. I did mine with my sister and it hangs over my desk where I can see it every, single day.

8. Tackle a house project.

It’s that thing you keep putting off: rearranging your furniture, changing your bulbs to energy savers, planting/transplanting in your garden, sewing new curtains, washing all your linens, etc. Once time, I finally created a photo collage on an empty white wall in my apartment. I went to a secondhand store, bought some old wooden frames of varying sizes, scanned through albums, selected photos and then curated the design. It was stunning once it was done and makes me smile every time I go by it.

9. Get rid of stuff. 

Go through your closet, your drawers, bathroom sink, junk drawer, your purse, knapsack, TV stands, shelves, etc. Creating efficiencies within your home where possible will help make you feel lighter, and if you’re able to donate a lot of your goods, even better.

10. Nurture yourself.

Have you ever talked yourself out of a cupcake or a yoga session because you just felt like you didn’t deserve it? Not on this day. This day, the mantra is, “I deserve all that is good in this world.” Buy the fancy macaroons, get that pedicure, buy a new pair of headphones, make a reservation for one at a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try, “staycation” anyone?

I remember on one of my anniversaries, I booked a full-body massage at the Four Seasons hotel, which also gave me access to their pools, steam room and luxury showers for free. I spent four hours in complete bliss and then treated myself to the most delicious meal there and an unforgettable creme brûlée and cappuccino. If I’m honest, there were moments where my brain was like, “This is too much! You can’t do this!” I replied with, “Yeah, but I never do this, it’s OK, it’s only once a year.”

Doing one or more of these things can help you get through the day, but also remind yourself this ugly feeling will pass, it’s just temporary. Acknowledge how much you have survived so far and give yourself credit for taking steps, however small, to cope.

Once the day passes it’s over and done with, you’ll remember you survived it and will again. Avoid ruminating; use your trauma anniversaries as a free pass to dedicate the day to you. Fill your life up with so many memories so your brain, slowly but surely, filters out the bad, or at least lessens the pain.

A friend once told me something that continues to give me comfort and offered so much perspective. She said, “Samira, don’t stop living. One day this is just going to be a blip in your life. It won’t define you.” A blip. What a wonderful thought. Yes, it’s there, it will always be there, but its impact on you will get smaller and smaller until it’s just a mere blip. Just knowing that gives me so much comfort and peace.

Getty image by jacoblund

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