Mental Health Moment- Anniversary Effect

We all know Fort McMurray has been through so much in the past few years. The current pandemic, plus flood and fire recovery, can lead to us feeling overwhelmed. Fort McMurray Catholic Schools continue to look to support our students, staff, and entire community to the best of our ability. We continue to walk through these times together. 

As the one year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic is here, Fort McMurray Catholic Schools Division Psychologist Chantal Seymour says it’s normal to not be feeling like ourselves these days due to what is often referred to as the anniversary effect, “Typically what we see happening is when the anniversary of a traumatic event is approaching we can experience a shift in our mood; we can begin to feel restless, irritable, sad or unmotivated. It is important that people know about the anniversary effect because this shift in mood can happen even when we are not consciously aware that the anniversary is approaching. Our bodies remember, even if our conscious minds do not.” 

Seymour says for many it can seem like these feelings came out of nowhere, which is what makes understanding the anniversary effect important. 

“Another reason to be mindful of the anniversary effect is because once we are aware and can understand what is happening we have a greater capacity for empathy towards ourselves and others,” continues Seymour. “Our increased capacity for empathy for ourselves allows us to make space for, recognize, validate and accept our feelings as a normal part of the healing process. By having an increased capacity for empathy towards others, we are able to recognize and acknowledge that they too may be struggling.” 

Seymour says it’s probably a good idea to try and plan ahead, “For example, if you know that an anniversary of a difficult event is approaching and you think that you may struggle, plan to spend time with supportive people; schedule a call or facetime with your best friend or a family member, or if you are seeing a counsellor you can always schedule a session. You can also plan ahead by developing a list of stressors to avoid as the anniversary is approaching, as well as planning ahead for self care, plan in specific detailed a self care routine for that week. 

Seymour shares this advice about how to support our children at this time, “Children too are susceptible to the anniversary effect, meaning that you may recognize mood disruptions in your kids. If so, talk with them about what you are noticing. Oftentimes, we try to avoid talking about hard things with our children and we think this is best for them because we don’t want to upset them or make it worse. However, just like adults, kids need space to share and discuss their feelings, and they often need to do this with a supportive adult.”

The anniversary effect usually is short term says Seymour, “Remind yourself that this sudden disruption in your mood is temporary. This reaction typically tends to fade over a week or two. If you find that you are experiencing this disruption in mood for a longer period of time please consider reaching out to your family doctor.”

“If you feel that your child is struggling and they need additional support the first step is talking with your school counsellor to develop a plan for support,” advises Seymour. “This might include school counselling support or a referral to another mental health professional. If you are in crisis you or someone you know is in crisis you can always call our local helpline at 780-743- HELP (4357) or if it is an emergency visit the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre or call 9-1-1.”


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