Mental Health | Anniversary Effect – feeling anxious, stressed, unsettled and upset?

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Anniversary Efect

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Unsettled and anxious? You could be suffering from the ‘Anniversary Effect’


Have you ever had a few days when you felt strangely unsettled, anxious and disquiet for no reason you could think of, only to feel settled again after a few days? Bad dreams, lack of concentration and uneasy feelings? You may have been experiencing the Anniversary Effect.


This phenomenon was originally of primary interest to psychoanalysts. In 1971, Ira Mintz, pioneer in the field of psychosomatic medicine, defined the Anniversary Effect (or Anniversary Reaction) as “a time-specific psychological response arising on an anniversary of a psychologically significant experience which the individual attempts to master through reliving rather than through remembering”.



Some years earlier, Josephine Hilgard at Stanford University observed that a number of patients who had lost a parent during childhood, on becoming parents themselves suffered a severe psychological episode on the anniversary of the death of that parent.



Hilgard suggested this was especially likely when the patient’s child reached the age at which the patient had lost their own parent.



For many years, observations of the Anniversary Effect focused on individual case studies. However, in 2015, Mikael Rostila and colleagues at the University of Stockholm studied records of all Swedish-born parents who’d lost a child between 1973 and 2008. In their cohort of 48’666, they found an increased likelihood of parents, especially females, dying during the week of the anniversary of their child’s death rather than at any other time of year.



Rostila concludes that bereavement of a loved one could have an effect on health and mortality, and that this should be acknowledged by public health professionals when working with bereaved individuals.


The Anniversary Effect is not, however, limited to the loss of a loved one. Other traumatic events, for example, the loss of one’s home, the breakdown of a relationship, can cause a similar reaction. J. Guy Edwards at the Royal South Hampshire Hospital collaborated with colleagues in Hat Yai, Thailand, where residents experienced severe flooding in 2000.



Researchers interviewed 100 residents in each of four flood areas every eight to ten weeks for one year. They observed a gradual decline in reported stress… until the anniversary date, when there was a sharp spike in reported anxiety and distress.



Psychologists at the Neuropsychology Center in Louisiana, led by Darlyne Nemeth, took these findings on board when they formulated ways to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. On the first year anniversary of the disaster, they offered “Anniversary Reaction workshops” to help victims accept, understand and deal with their feelings.



Their findings suggest the intervention helped participants regain emotional strength and deal more effectively with their psychological and physical symptoms. So effective were these workshops that the approach was then used in China to help victims on the first anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.



If you or someone you know is at risk of suffering from an Anniversary Effect, social support is the best medicine. Most sufferers will welcome the chance to talk things through, to allow awareness and acceptance of their distress, and then to be helped to come up with practical but sensitive ways to move forward.


• Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist and author of Siblings: How to Handle Rivalry and Create Lifelong Loving Bonds.


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