What Is The 'Anniversary Effect' And Why Is It Happening Now?

By now, many of us have experienced pandemic fatigue as we approach the one-year marker of the spread of COVID-19. According to experts at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, pandemic fatigue is a form of emotional burnout from the stress of abiding by ongoing pandemic restrictions. Pandemic fatigue can take many forms including irritability, difficulty focusing, a lack of motivation, and social withdrawal. With mid-March marking the passing of the one-year COVID-19 anniversary, people are experiencing a different kind of pandemic fatigue. What's known in the scientific community as "the anniversary effect" comes with elevated levels of psychological and physical distress including added feelings of grief, loss, and heightened states of anxiety (via CNN).

This month marks the start of what was an extraordinarily painful year where many experienced loss, mental health struggles, and financial hardship. Mental health expert Susan Harrington expands on this, telling CNN, "Our bodies and brains store painful memories that can be triggered by certain dates or seasons, such as the death date of a loved one, the annual reminder of a serious diagnosis, or, perhaps, the one-year anniversary of a pandemic."

The anniversary effect can cause painful memories to resurface

A 2012 study further confirms this stating that the grief cycle is often more unpredictable and doesn't usually follow a straightforward trajectory. Of the various triggers studied, it was found that traumatic experiences such as employment loss or the loss of a loved one, were found to extend or reinitiate the grieving process altogether (via Science Daily).

Counselor and trauma specialist, Danielle Render Turmaud, provides suggestions for those experiencing emotional difficulty during this time, the most important of which is allowing ourselves the space to process painful emotions (via Psychology Today). This can include utilizing coping strategies such as journaling, rest, or engaging in activities that help us feel calm or safe. Additionally, limiting other potential triggers by reducing our consumption of the news or taking a break from social media can help keep our already heightened emotions from further escalating. Lastly, it is always encouraged to reach out for help if needed. Whether through a counselor or a family member, many of us may need extra support during this time.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.