Resilience: The pandemic anniversary effect

Q&A with Lori Prediger exploring trauma, our bodies' response and moving forward together

Resilience: The pandemic anniversary effect

As we wade through a slushy Alberta March, many of us eagerly await a green spring. This year, especially, we may be hoping for a season of new beginnings as we finally leave pandemic restrictions in the past. 

And yet, we may not be feeling that renewed optimism. At this exact time two years ago, our lives were just starting to change. We donned face masks and waved to loved ones through windows. For many, that third week of March ignited intense feelings of fear, grief and uncertainty.  

Now, as we walk through that same week in 2022, we may find those feelings bubbling up again, seemingly out of the blue. It’s what experts call the “anniversary effect” or “critical period” — a noticeable increase in disturbing feelings around the date of a traumatic or significant event.  

The Resilience Blog spoke with Lori Prediger, a manager with the County’s Family and Community Services, to learn more about the anniversary effect — and how to walk through it. 

Resilience Blog (RB): How might the anniversary effect play out in people’s lives? 

Lori Prediger (LP): People may not realize why they're feeling a little bit off. They may be more reactive, anxious or fearful — some of those same emotions they felt at the initial event. With COVID, the initial lockdowns and extraordinary measures, along with what we were hearing from the rest of the world, did provoke some very fearful and potentially life-threatening scenarios. 

RB: What can we do to work through these anniversary effect symptoms? 

LP: First, know it’s not uncommon to find yourself being a little short, discombobulated or just not feeling yourself leading up to an incident anniversary. That awareness allows you to be a little gentler with yourself. And there isn’t some magic to make it go away — it’s something you need to live through. As you live through an anniversary consecutive times, the body seems to lessen its response over time. 

RB: I think a lot of us tend to be hard on ourselves if we don’t understand why we’re feeling extra stressed or anxious. How can we accept what we might be feeling? 

LP: It’s important to think about resilience. The more times we successfully bounce back from these negative experiences, our bodies begin to learn that as well. It doesn't mean you're done in because you have an anniversary reaction. It won't be like that for the rest of your life. Your body is an amazing thing. 

RB: How might it affect people this year, now that we’re moving beyond a lot of the restrictions? 

It could be unsettling to know the world is now in a different place. You might think, “We're opening up and I'm still feeling these anniversary symptoms. Why is this happening to me?” But we can’t assume we’re always going to have a forward trajectory. This is not a linear journey.  

RB: How can we move forward together? 

LP: We need to be respectful, recognize each other's needs and continue to support one another. And, if things are not getting better, we need to reach out for more support. It's amazing what talking about these feelings can do — it's very healing. We all need belonging and connection. That's what being human is about. 

FCS offers support if you have questions about mental health, parenting, finances or even how to be a supportive friend or neighbour. Call 780-464-4044 to reach out. 

This story is part of our community recovery work to encourage empathy and connection as we look to move forward together out of the pandemic. 

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