Why one year of the pandemic hits hard

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Because of what psychologists call the ‘anniversary effect’, some people are finding the month of March particularly challenging

woman in face mask

It has undoubtedly been the opening remark of many Zoom catch ups this week.

“Hard to believe this all started a year ago, isn’t it?”

In just weeks, Ireland went from having its first confirmed case of coronavirus, to a full lockdown. More than 200,000 people have been infected, and over 4,000 have lost their lives.

Now, as our third lockdown drags on and the anniversary passes us by without fanfare and little hope for an imminent return to normality, is it any wonder that many of us are succumbing to that dark cloud and feeling fed up of it all?

But it’s so much more than just lockdown fatigue. There is something significant about this month in the calendar.

Even if you weren’t one for a pint of Guinness in the pub, parades or Shamrock Shakes on 17 March, it is remarkable that this will be our second uncelebrated St Patrick’s Day. It is a reminder of so many milestones, birthdays and sad tragedies that we didn’t get to mark properly.

There is something about the anniversary that has caused the resurgence of the stress, dread and restlessness of the first lockdown. Psychologists have coined the term anniversary effect to describe this phenomenon, seen for example in patients with PTSD or those in mourning.

As psychologist Deborah Serani explains to Refinery29, the mind unconsciously catalogues the time of a trauma, and so it is believed that date will activate the memories of that experience. The anniversary effect can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety, fear and anger in the days and weeks surrounding the date in question. So if you have been feeling your reserves of positivity ebb, and frustration and sadness take over, you’re not alone.

To rely once more on that overutilised phrase, we’re all living in unprecedented times. The emergence of coronavirus, the impact of lockdown restrictons, and the huge loss of life, is a collective traumatic event, and we’re going to feel the effects of that for some time to come.

Our feelings about the pandemic and all that goes with it are for the most part unresolved. We’ve lost so much, we’ve grieved, we’ve been forced to navigate, change and adapt, without much hope. Even the prospect of vaccines are dangled just out of reach for most. It makes sense that while we may not be as scared of the unknown as we were last March, we’re still fearful and overwhelmed by all of this.

So where does that leave us? For now we need to remember that there is no time limit on grief and pain, and that we all experience and cope with those feelings differently. Just like we did last year, we need to take comfort in the simple pleasures we can enjoy, to check in with loved ones, and take breaks from the news if it is weighing on our moods. Hold onto hope too, especially as a speedier vaccination programme seems likely with the EU approval of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 


Main image: Engin Akyurt from Pexels