Most of us circle a few days of the calendar year that we know will be difficult to get through: the anniversary of a death, traumatic event, or even happy occasion. These dates are charged with emotion.
September 11 falls under that category for most of us, and especially those living in New York or surrounding areas and families and loved ones of those killed in the terrorist attacks. The one benefit from anniversary anxiety is that we can predict it and therefore prepare for it. Here are 8 ways to do just that.
1. Forecast your emotions.
You’ve circled the day. You know it’s coming. Now get honest with yourself about how you might feel on that day. If it’s the anniversary of a death of a loved one, get ready to celebrate that person’s life with joy and sadness. Pull out some photos. Prepare to feel that hollow part in your heart open up once more to the loss you have felt since the death. Allow yourself some space for mourning, even if it’s been 10 years since you’ve separated and everyone tells you that you should be over it.
2. Plan a time-out.
Allow some time on the anniversary or the days preceding it to feel the range of emotions you are holding inside. Block out an hour to walk by the creek or hide out in a chapel to process the grief and anxiety. Take an extra long lunch and bring some tissue. To help surface your sentiments, jot down your fears or describe your sadness.
3. Stay away from the news.
If you’re like me you don’t need anything contributing to your panic up when you’re already anxious. So stay away from the TV and turn off the radio. You don’t need images of Ground Zero as you are trying to calm yourself, unless they serve the same purpose as photographs or journaling like I suggested above. I try to avoid any and all sources of stimulation when I feel anxious: the computer, tv, radio, bright lights, electronic games, and definitely Chuck E. Cheese, the state fair, and Six Flags amusement park. Pretend you are the Dalai Lama and go about your day as he would … breathing deeply and meditating at every chance.
4. Provide padding.
I’m not talking about stuffing your bra, although that you could try that and see if relieves any anxiety. I’m merely suggesting you be kind to yourself and talk it easy. In other words, treat this day as if you’re ill, because in a sense you are. Your body is producing too much Cortisol, the stress hormone and your amygdala, the almond-shaped neurons on the brain’s fear center is in overdrive, sending primal messages of panic similar to those in apes and monkeys. It’s like catching a cold or the flu, so you need to treat yourself as you would your sick seven-year-old. “Here now. Is there anything else I can get you? You just relax and take it easy.” A full-time job makes that treatment difficult, yes, but you need to allow for an excess of padding that you don’t otherwise give yourself.
5. Talk about it.
Something about gabbing heals. It doesn’t always have to be the old-fashioned way either. If the Internet doesn’t rev you up like I explained above, then it can be a great source of support. In fact, according to a 2002 study, Internet support groups have been shown to help those suffering from depression and anxiety. In fact 95 percent of those studied said that participation in depression Internet support groups helped their systems.
6. Choose a mantra.
Picking a few words to repeat continuously not only imprints the message (“I WILL get better”) on your brain, it’s a reminder to slow down your breathing. That way the oxygen can sneak into the places in your body where the panic is has shut the door. Some mantras that have worked well for me: “I am okay,” “God, be with me,” “All is good,” and simply “Peace.”
7. Return to the basics.
Anxiety is often a clue for me to return to the basics of good sleep hygiene, which means going to bed the same time in the same place with the same person and waking up at the same time, eating healthy (plenty of fiber and protein and reducing the white flour and white sugar that I love so much), cutting my caffeine intake, and basically becoming a boring person.
On anniversaries, I spend much of my day in prayer. I hide out inside St. Mary’s Church here in Annapolis, and I light votive candles for the loved ones left behind who are hurting. I ask God what I can do to make a tragedy less painful–if there is any healing role for me. I try to get the focus off of me and on to those stuck in sadness. Somehow offering a prayer–sending my love and intentions of wholeness, goodness, and light–to the victims and their families brings me peace as well.