We spoke to experts in the field of mental health about managing difficult feelings that may arise on the anniversary of the first UK lockdown. This is what they had to say
Anniversaries are a time to stop and take stock. “We give ourselves permission to have our feelings on anniversaries,” says Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist. “They can be a time to reflect on how we feel, but also to let go of feelings.”
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK. It could be a difficult time for many of us; it’s been shown that on the anniversary of a traumatic event, some people have an increase in distress, what’s come to be known as an ‘anniversary reaction’.
Plus, the pandemic is still ongoing, which could make this anniversary even more challenging. “Usually an anniversary marks the end of something, but this is a reminder that we’re still going through it,” says Natasha Clewley, an accredited counsellor with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
We asked psychologists and trauma experts to share their advice on how to mark this difficult anniversary. Here’s what they had to say:
During lockdown, many of us have stopped looking too far ahead and have simply focused on getting through the day. An anniversary can therefore be difficult because it encourages us to look back and confront the full extent of what we have experienced.
“Anniversaries can pull us out of the situation and allow us to look at the enormity of what we’re dealing with,” says Emma Kavanagh, an author and former police and military psychologist. “That can be quite overwhelming.”
So don’t be surprised if reflecting on the last year can make you feel emotional. “Allow yourself to grieve,” Kavanagh says. “We have a tendency to say ‘it could be worse’, but that’s not useful; if we try to suppress our emotions we actually increase them. So be aware we’ve survived a disaster and that it may have changed our understanding of the world.”
2. Be kind to yourself, particularly if you lost a loved one
If you lost a loved one last March, this anniversary will be particularly difficult. “The first anniversary [of a loss] is always the hardest,” says Blair. “The only cure for grief is time. It will come to a point where you will carry the person you lost inside you and you’ll honour them by doing the things that matter to them. You can’t do it on schedule, though, you’ll do it in your own way.”’
3. Reflect on what you’ve learned
An anniversary can be a good time to think about what you learned from a difficult experience like the pandemic, as Positive News readers did in this article last week. “The past year has been a year that kind of got lost,” says Blair, “but it’s also been a year to reflect on our values and on what really counts, which we wouldn’t have done otherwise because we just keep going.”
You can do this with friends, suggests Kavanagh, or write it down alone. “Any time is a good time for writing things down,” she says. “Expressive writing has been found to have good psychological effects in the aftermath of a trauma.”’
4. Plant something
Planting something could be a good way to mark an anniversary, Clewley suggests. “Gardening can be good because it focuses your mind on the here and now,” she says. “It enables you to focus on new growth.”
Gardening or exercising also encourages us to get outside and off our screens and bring us back to the present moment. “I would say to still take it day-by-day and try not to look into things more than you need to,” says Clewley. It’s best to avoid ruminating too much on the past or projecting too much into the future. Practicing mindfulness can also help.
5. Talk to someone
While the pandemic has impacted us all, everyone has experienced the crisis differently, with each person having their own challenges to contend with. Talking with friends and family can help. “I think it’s about acknowledging that this anniversary is difficult and reaching out and speaking to people,” says Clewley. “It’s owning where you are and being able to communicate that with people.”
Talking through feelings with a professional counsellor can also help. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s removed from your life,” says Clewley.
To mark the anniversary, you could go one step further and think of someone who has helped you this last year and let them know, Blair suggests. “Call them up and tell them, or write a letter,” she says. “Because giving pays back the giver as well as the receiver.”
6. Take it at your own pace
The current easing of lockdown restrictions in parts of the UK can add to mixed feelings. While many may be desperate for that first post-lockdown pint in the pub, others may be feeling anxious at the prospect of restrictions being eased after so long.
“It’s about recognising it will take time,” says Nadia Svirydzenka, a lecturer in social psychology at De Montfort University, Leicester, England. “Things will be gradual, so don’t rush, manage your expectations, and take things at your own pace.”
There is cause for optimism, the psychologists say. “People are highly flexible and highly adaptive,” says Kavanagh. After a traumatic event, many people experience post traumatic growth, she says, which could lead us to gain new strengths and self esteem.