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How Trauma Presents Physically When an Anniversary Approaches

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you’re approaching a first trauma anniversary or love someone who’s survived trauma, you might assume that trauma primarily manifests in the mind — as nightmares, flashbacks or memories. But on or near trauma anniversaries, trauma may also present physically — and those sensations may take you off-guard.

You may experience unexplainable sensations that remind you of your trauma, as if that entire day is somehow stored away in your body. You may feel numbness, sadness or anger as you move through the day — feeling like your muscles are weak or tired, experiencing headaches, or trying to ward off the muscle tension that’s connected to your memories. You may not fully associate those sensations with your trauma until they arrive, but you may end up discovering the relationship between your body and your trauma as you continue to react.

You may re-experience all of the emotions that accompanied your trauma, even if your trauma anniversary hasn’t yet arrived. You may feel the fear of those life-changing moments return to you as you try to stop your pounding heart from beating out of your chest. You may feel self-destructive, desiring the same things that threatened to harm you that day in order to escape the pain of your memories. You may feel rage boil through you so quickly that you worry you may not be able to stop it, even if you’re usually able to cope with strong emotions. And you may not know why your body is reacting so strongly to something that can’t harm you today, even if your mind is swaying you to believe that you should stay vigilant to prevent further trauma.

You may be increasingly aware of triggers as you approach your trauma anniversary — and react just as strongly to them as you did when they first began impacting your life. You may wonder why these seemingly simple objects and situations provoke such strong emotions and sensations in you, then physically feel the memories of the moments that haunt you flood back.  You may feel like your triggers will never stop coming out of the woodwork and spurring your body to action, especially if your anniversary reaction stretches over several days or weeks. You may wonder if you will ever find peace with the things that remind you of your trauma, but these heightened bodily sensations will likely pass and may not feel as intense when your trauma anniversary passes.

The physical manifestations of your trauma can feel especially difficult to cope with as you approach a trauma anniversary, but the parts of your body that currently carry your trauma may feel less fatigued as time passes. If you’re startled by the way your trauma feels as you approach your anniversary, remember that you aren’t the only one whose trauma presents physically — it may feel painful now, but you aren’t alone.


Photo credit: Naftizin/Getty Images

Originally published: September 5, 2021
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