When you’ve lived through a traumatic experience, the anniversary of that day can be incredibly difficult to get through. But by following just a few key steps, you can make sure that you have all the tools you need to cope with the anniversary successfully while staying on the path to recovery.

Why the Anniversary of a Traumatic Event Can Be So Challenging

The anniversary of a traumatic event can bring many personal challenges to be overcome. It serves as a reminder of your lived experience and can often lead to a surge of trauma-related symptoms and emotions that can leave people feeling like they’ve taken a step backward in their journey toward recovery.

Particularly for people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the anniversary of a traumatic event can lead to invasive memories, flashbacks, or increased anxiety. Most people living with PTSD attempt to avoid these types of memories, but the anniversary of a traumatic event marks a day where avoidance doesn’t always pan out.

Having these feelings on the anniversary of a traumatic event is completely normal. A surge of symptoms is expected. But the truly pernicious aspect of a traumatic event anniversary is when people experience these symptoms and create long-term beliefs about what that means about them or their progress in working past it.

Recognizing that this day will be difficult, there are several steps you can take to help cope with the anniversary of a traumatic event. If you employ the coping skills listed below, you may be less likely to have an overwhelmingly negative experience and can continue moving forward on the path to long-term recovery.

Steps to Coping with the Anniversary of a Traumatic Event

Everyone who’s lived through trauma has a unique experience of the symptoms and challenges that they face on the anniversary of a traumatic event. Similarly, how people work to cope with this event can be entirely unique.

While the strategies listed below can be used as a template, recognize that they aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are dozens of different strategies that can help people with the coping process, and what works for you can be totally unique.

Use the steps below as a guide. Think about what might help you, given your circumstances and experience, and leave out anything that doesn’t serve you in your goals.

Plan Your Day

The first critical element of coping with the anniversary of a traumatic event is to have a plan. If you know or expect the anniversary to be difficult, adding structure can help you avoid getting swept away by the intense emotions or challenges of the day.

Think about what you can do to minimize your negative emotions or to emphasize the things that bring you relief or joy. While everyone’s plan may be different, this could include options such as:

  • Meeting with friends and family
  • Setting up an appointment with your therapist
  • Attending a trauma support group
  • Scheduling time for exercise
  • Taking time to immerse yourself in nature

When making plans for the day, ask yourself: what is it that helps me to cope with difficult emotions? What can I do to minimize a potentially negative experience? You likely already know the answers to these questions, so set yourself up for success by making a plan that supports you in coping.

What you don’t want is to go into a potentially difficult day without any preparation. If you don’t make any plans, you’re more likely to be swept away by the negative emotions and symptoms that may appear. You could find yourself ruminating on these symptoms, beating yourself up, and going through more distress than you need to.

Seek Out Social Support

The challenges of an anniversary of a traumatic event are heightened by being alone. Without the ability to share your challenges with others, you take on the burden of negative symptoms all by yourself and won’t have anyone to lend a helping hand in making you feel better.

For this reason, seeking out social support is an essential tool for coping. Find someone who understands your struggle and see if they’re willing to spend time with you on this difficult day. Exactly who provides this support is up to you, but they could include:

  • Your spouse or partner
  • Close friends who know your challenges with trauma
  • Your therapist
  • Peers from trauma support groups
  • Supportive family members

Finding social support doesn’t remove the obstacles you may face on the anniversary of a traumatic event, but it can help mitigate them. Having a solid source of social support during this time can help you put your emotions into context, prevent you from spiraling into a negative emotional state, and give you a helping hand in dealing with the symptoms you experience.

It may also be important to you to find support from someone who can empathize with what you’re going through on this day. You don’t want to spend your time with someone who dismisses your symptoms or refuses to acknowledge them.

Remember that this is often a critical moment, especially if you’re in early recovery. Find the people who will lift you up and support you.

Prepare for Challenges

When developing a plan for how to cope with a traumatic event, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everything will go smoothly. Try to anticipate what might go wrong, what challenges you may face, and what you can do to overcome them in the moment.

For example, some people who are faced with memories or thoughts of a traumatic event can feel a sudden and overwhelming sense of anxiety. If you fail to plan for this, you can quickly fall into a spiral of negative emotions and thoughts that are difficult to escape on your own.

While a plan to deal with anxiety cannot stop it from occurring, it provides a lifeline for you to grab onto. What are the methods you’ve used before to overcome these feelings? For example, it could be:

  • Practicing breathing techniques
  • Using prescribed medication
  • Calling a friend or family member
  • Mindfulness practices
  • Grounding techniques

Preparing yourself to overcome these challenges can help significantly in the moment. When you start to experience a difficult event, you already know what to do; all that’s left is to put your plan into motion.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

People who have lived through traumatic experiences often find themselves attempting to escape, avoid, or repress their feelings. Yet the pathway to achieving a lasting recovery often requires that you recognize and acknowledge these feelings directly.

This isn’t to say that you should lean into a negative experience, but rather to recognize that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or anxious from time to time. Particularly on the anniversary of a traumatic event, these types of emotions are to be expected.

Pushing your feelings down or trying to avoid them often backfires. Trying to avoid memories or emotions is often stressful on its own, and it is often unsuccessful.

Instead of trying to avoid your feelings, focus on accepting them as they arise. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Share them with others. Move through the experience rather than attempting to push it away.

This is often the fastest path to achieving a true and lasting recovery. Only once you become comfortable with an uncomfortable memory or experience can you begin to thrive in spite of it.

Engage in Self-Care

Self-care routines are an effective way of helping manage the stressors of the anniversary of a traumatic event. Self-care practices are strategies and routines that help you to feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and prepared to tackle life’s challenges.

Self-care isn’t necessarily a means of reducing stress. Instead, it is a way of building your capacity for stress over time. It provides you with a reserve of well-being that you can draw upon when you face difficult times, helping smooth the path to recovery and keeping you feeling your best.

While the specific routines for self-care vary between individuals, common examples include:

  • Scheduling an appointment for massage therapy
  • A regular exercise routine
  • Mindfulness practices
  • Reading
  • Creative outlets (art, photography, or music)
  • Yoga

Whatever you choose as a self-care practice, it should be an activity that makes you feel better when you’re done. In preparing for the anniversary of a traumatic event, make a point to engage in regular self-care both before the day and on it.

Self-care in the days leading up to the anniversary ensures that you start the day off on the right foot and in a good headspace, which will help you have a better chance of coping with your challenges successfully.

Avoid Substance Use

Substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder often go hand in hand. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to cope with the uncomfortable symptoms of traumatic experiences.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 46.4% of people with a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD have a co-occurring substance use disorder. And even if you don’t believe that to be the case for you, turning to drugs or alcohol on the anniversary of a traumatic event can lead to a number of harmful consequences.

While alcohol or drug use may provide some temporary relief, these are often short-lived benefits. Typically, stressors that are repressed through substance use return in even greater severity, even on the very same day.

This often leads people down the path of addiction, when they begin to use more substances to find relief from perpetually worsening symptoms. This pattern can quickly lead to the development of a substance use disorder, which in turn worsens the symptoms of PTSD.

Find Support From Professionals

If you’re apprehensive about your ability to cope with the anniversary of traumatic events on your own, reaching out to a mental health professional is a great way of finding evidence-based support to help you through challenging times.

Trauma specialists have a number of tools that can help you stay on the path to lasting recovery, from therapeutic styles specifically designed to help people overcome the symptoms of PTSD, medication management, and even brief medical treatment options such as a stellate ganglion block, which can help soothe your central nervous system.

Start Treatment at Plus by APN

Starting treatment at a trauma-informed treatment facility is one of the most effective ways of effectively coping with the anniversary of a traumatic event. Plus by APN offers a number of traditional and innovative treatments that can help people dealing with trauma-related symptoms, including:

To get started with treatment, contact the team at Plus by APN at 424.644.6486 or by filling out our confidential online contact form for more information.


  • “Treatment of Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorder in VA.” Va.Gov: Veterans Affairs, 15 May 2017, www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/tx_sud_va.asp.
  • “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd. Accessed 17 Feb. 2024.