Addressing the Anniversary Effect with Creativity

I don’t need to remind you that this month, October 2018, marks the one year anniversary of the devastating Sonoma county fires. Both individually and as a community we may be currently experiencing the “Anniversary Effect.”

The Anniversary Effect, according to Psychology Today magazine, “is defined as a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.”

Over this past year you may have experienced loss, grief, fear, anxiety, gratitude, joy and hopefulness. But, around the anniversary, it’s likely that the darker emotions will rise again to the surface. Over the summer, the view of smoky skylines, due to fires raging throughout neighboring counties triggered memories and feelings for many of us. And now, with the change of seasons and the dry, hot winds blowing over the hills comes the memory of last year’s events.

Though you may feel inclined to turn away from these feelings and memories, there’s a power in facing them. In fact, leaning into our darker, heavier emotions can be a tremendously healing experience.

Though there are many actions we can take to deal with the Anniversary Effect, I always advocate for a creative response. The healing power of creativity has been proven to me over and over again. It is at once self-care and a statement of one’s humanity. Our creative acts weave us together, connecting us and reminding us we are anything but alone in our experience of the world.

Below are six creative suggestions for a healing and transformative response to trauma anniversaries.

  1. Start a yearly ritual to mark the anniversary. Create an altar, light a candle and say a prayer for having survived and endured.

  2. Celebrate. Gather with friends to celebrate having come this far, having moved forward, or just having each other. Acknowledging community underscores the power of being connected to others in times of crisis.

  3. Make intuitive art. Get your hands in some art supplies and touch into your core feelings. Express them without judgment. Use imagery that connects with the event and your emotions. Allow your intuition to guide you. Step back and take stock. What does your inner wisdom want to share with you? (Art journaling is a fantastic intuitive art making practice…just sayin’ ;)

  4. Free write. Journaling is a great way to process feelings that come up during trauma anniversaries. Pour your words out on the page. Don’t worry about creating a finished product, just give yourself space for self-expression.

  5. Take a walk in nature. Especially significant is taking a walk up in the fire areas, such as one of our regional parks. See how Mother Nature is bouncing back after the events of last year. Or, take a walk at the beach and let the waves remind you that all of life begins again and again and again.

  6. Dance, sing, move. Moving your body is a powerful way to assert that you have survived. Listen to some music that helps you feel into your emotions. Move or dance, allowing your body to stretch and bend and express your story. Give space for the sadness and the joy. If you feel inhibited, do this alone in a room by yourself. Or, stretch outside your comfort zone and invite friends to join you in a Fire Anniversary Dance Party!


If you feel overwhelmed or cannot navigate successfully through the Anniversary Effect, consider seeking the counsel of a mental healthcare professional.

This piece originally appeared in Sebastopol Living Magazine’s October 2018 issue.

Susie MillerComment