Anticipating anniversary reactions

The coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic one year ago this month. The news is filled with articles reflecting on the dramatic changes in our lives from last year to this — lost jobs, remote school, canceled events, illness.

For those in long-term care, this week last year began the pandemic visitor restrictions, and for many East Coasters, it was the point when COVID-19 hit facilities like a tsunami. One week everything was fine and the next it was a catastrophe.

While the timing of your nursing home’s “tsunami” might be different, it’s likely that there’s an upcoming anniversary on the horizon. The one-year mark of this disaster may bring up disturbing feelings in staff known as an “anniversary reaction.”

The National Center for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) describes an anniversary reaction as “an increase in distressing memories of the event … that can range from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction in which an individual experiences significant psychiatric or medical symptoms.”

In addition to the date acting as a reminder, other signals can surface — holidays, first anniversaries of painful losses and even news articles.

For instance, some workers might find triggering this weekend’s scathing New York Times piece on the ineffectiveness of the five-star rating system, “Maggots, Rape and Yet Five Stars: How U.S. Ratings of Nursing Homes Mislead the Public.” While we can all agree that the rating system should be an accurate reflection of the care provided, the tone of the article, which describes the “horrors” of nursing homes, is reminiscent of news coverage long-term care received early in the pandemic, when hospital staff were considered applause-worthy heroes and LTC staff were perceived as thoroughly failing elders, their own heroic efforts disregarded.

Whatever the specific reminders of a painful time, it can be helpful to anticipate that an anniversary reaction might occur. Recognizing the source of feelings or symptoms can make it easier to deal with them.

Organizational response

Organizations can offer various types of support for their teams, especially since this was an on-the-job stressor faced together by team members and they will be experiencing the anniversary simultaneously.

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