Happy anniversary?

Do you remember the exact date when you first experienced tinnitus? If you do, and you continue to find your tinnitus distressing, you may well experience the “Anniversary Effect”.

The Anniversary Effect

The Anniversary Effect consists of feelings, thoughts or memories that occur around the date that marks a significant event in our life. That could be the death of a loved one. It could be the date of a divorce or separation, a shock redundancy, the date of an accident or the date you first experienced tinnitus.

You might feel sad, irritable, anxious, emotionally shutdown or be struggling to sleep. All these states are perfectly normal and are part of the grieving process. Experiencing an Anniversary Effect shows that you are not yet over the trauma of getting tinnitus, and it is something you still need to process.

Why it happens

The Anniversary Effect happens because your brain is trying to protect you. Research shows that our brains store these painful, or distressing memories in an easily accessible way so that we can be reminded of the dangers. That way we’ll work to prevent something similar happening again. This makes sense if, for example, your tinnitus started because you stood next to a speaker at a gig, or someone blew an air horn right next to your ear at a sports game.

But if tinnitus came out of the blue, and for no real discernible reason, why does our brain still create the Anniversary Effect? According to the British Tinnitus Association  “it’s generally agreed that [tinnitus] results from some type of change, either mental or physical, but not necessarily related to the ear… tinnitus is not a disease or illness in itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition.” So even if WE don’t yet understand why we got tinnitus, our brain knows that something was not right at that time and so will endeavor to warn us not to create the same conditions again.

What you can do to help yourself

Acknowledge it Be aware of, and acknowledge, all the emotions that arise around the anniversary of getting tinnitus. You don’t need to suppress them – they’re perfectly normal. But try not to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by them. If you have taken the Bee Empowered course, dig out your Tinnitus First Aid Plan and use the practices and practical tactics you identified as helpful.

Prepare If you have experienced an Anniversary Reaction before and are anxious about an impending anniversary, plan ahead. If you want to be distracted, make a date to meet up with some friends. If you are worried about how you will react in front of your colleagues, ask to work from home if that’s possible.

Remember Mindfulness teaches us an important principle – all those thoughts and feelings that you’re experiencing are temporary. These strong emotions, and memories will pass. Notice what thoughts you’re having. Ask yourself whether you need to react to them, for example, by spending time worrying about what the rest of your life will be like, or whether you can choose to respond in a more helpful way.

Reach out Talk to your personal support group about what you’re experiencing. They might not be able to ‘get’ what it’s like to have tinnitus, but they know what it feels like to feel anxious, depressed, or sad. If you reach out to support groups online make sure you choose a group that is positive. The last thing you need when you are feeling vulnerable is lots of people telling you how horrendous tinnitus is, and how dreadful their lives are because of it.

Commemorate Depending on where you are in your tinnitus journey you may be gasping at this suggestion! But, it is a very helpful strategy. Knowing how much you have suffered with tinnitus might inspire you to support others in the same position, and organisations that help them. Some suggestions include fundraising for the  British Tinnitus Association the American Tinnitus Association or the UK Veterans Hearing Foundation or, if it suits you, offering to start or co-lead a support group in your local area. And, of course, there’s always the option of making a donation to one of these organisations.

If you would like to learn more about the Bee Empowered mindfulness and self-compassion course created specifically for people like you and me who have tinnitus, Click Here or email lisa@thehearingcoach.com