Anniversary of COVID-19 lockdowns might spark feelings of anxiety

This month’s two-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic turning lives upside down might not be a big deal for some, but for those affected by it, a D.C.-area therapist has tips to cope.

“The anniversary effect, it’s a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience,” said Daniel Jackson, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Largo, Maryland.

Jackson said it’s natural for people to feel anxious or depressed when reflecting on the first COVID-19 lockdowns.

Signs someone might be experiencing issues include irritability or aggressiveness, poor concentration, trouble sleeping, acting out behaviors, isolating or withdrawing from others.

Daniel Jackson is a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Largo, Maryland. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

To help, Jackson said people can try limiting exposure to the news and social media to an hour a day.

“Also, exercising — even a 15-minute walk is just as helpful as a 45-minute walk — practicing mindfulness, getting support from family and friends and limiting distractions,” he said.

COVID-19-related deaths also can cause anniversary-related issues. To support someone who might be struggling with grief or trauma, begin by asking how they’re doing and what they’re feeling.

“Listen in a nonjudgmental way. You can provide some positive distractions such as phone calls or dinner together, and then also let your friend know that it’s OK to not feel OK,” Jackson said. “Just be available if they need it.”

Whatever the triggering event might be, Jackson said people should be aware of the anniversary and that it could be stressful. Know that it is a normal response and realize that it will pass.

“For most people, the anniversary effect is most intense during the initial anniversary time, but tends to relieve within a couple of weeks after the anniversary period,” Jackson said.

People who are feeling more anxious or depressed should reach out to a close friend or family member whom they’re comfortable talking with.

“Simply expressing your feelings can be very helpful for providing some relief,” Jackson said.

And, if all those strategies aren’t enough?

“I would recommend seeking help from a mental health professional who can help utilize techniques to better help assist you get to the place where you’d want to be,” he said.

The website Findyourwords.org has tips on asking for help, signs and symptoms of depression, phone numbers and resources for building resilience and managing stress. It offers a crisis text line.

People looking to help themselves or someone else can reach the crisis text line by texting “WORDS” to 741741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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