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  • Jennifer Massey

Combatting the COVID Anniversary Reaction

As the saying goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. For many of us, March 2020’s lion never transitioned to a lamb and the lion has been with us even with a short reprieve last summer and fall. Unbelievably, what started out as a two-week shutdown has turned into a new way of life. We are in March of 2021 facing the one-year anniversary of COVID. In talking with clients, colleagues, family, and friends, they have begun telling their stories of what they were doing before and/or when COVID changed their lives. They are also expressing how COVID has impacted them and the disbelief that it has been a year of pandemic living.


As humans we know through our own life experiences that not all anniversaries are happy, but did you know there is a thing called the anniversary reaction? You may ask yourself, what is that? According to Psychology Today, it is a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience. I believe we are all experiencing a variety of COVID anniversary reactions and will in the years to come. As leaders, we are left to manage our employee’s various reactions to this anniversary. Here are suggestions to help you support your employees:


1. Allow your employees to share their stories and their feelings. Actively listen and if the person needs more than just an empathetic ear, refer them to the experts. Many organizations have Employee Assistance Programs and/or health care plans that provide the needed services, so be sure to familiarize yourself with what resources your company provides.


2. Encourage your employees to do regular self-care and to take a break from the media and/or social media. Also, ask them what they are doing for self-care. If they do not know what to do you might suggest they go for a walk, take deep breaths, read a good book or participate in hobbies that bring them joy.


3. Have your team organize or participate in a community service event. There are many people continuing to experience food and hygiene insecurity and focusing on making an impact in the lives of others can be a way to help people create positive and new memories in response to the anniversary.


Lastly, as leaders it is important for us to help our employees see hope in the future. This can be difficult, but talking about how we are feeling, engaging in our own self-care, and seeking assistance if we need it can help. This can be difficult when we are charged with having to support others; however, remember the oxygen mask rule when flying on a plane - “If the cabin loses pressure, please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”This absolutely applies, because if you do not make yourself a priority, you will not be able to help anyone. So what will you do to navigate your team’s COVID anniversary reaction?

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