Trauma anniversaries and healing as a community in Nashville

By Youth Villages on 26th Mar 2024

The Middle Tennessee air is becoming warmer, dogwoods are blooming, and colorful, fresh produce is filling the shelves in the grocery stores. These are typically sights and smells welcome after an icy, cold winter, but a year after the traumatic mass shooting at Covenant School, these senses may serve as an unwelcome reminder of a time of great tragedy in our community.

Trauma is tied to sensory input, and any of your five senses can take your body back to the moment of trauma or grief. These reminders will be different for each person depending on what they were doing at the time of tragedy. As we approach the anniversary of trauma in the greater Nashville community, it’s important for families to understand the impact of grief anniversaries and how to manage heightened emotions related to this in their homes.

Advice for parents ahead of trauma anniversaries: 

  1. Your best tool is awareness, of yourself and your children. Leading up to grief anniversaries, be extra cued into your own emotions, body and anything that seems out of the ordinary. Everyone presents differently when triggered, ranging from heightened anxiety, stress and irritability to detachment and withdrawal from loved ones and emotions. Maybe you are disassociating, zoning out, or numbing with increased alcohol or technology. If so, you need to find a way to get back into your mind and body. Or maybe you have heightened anxiety, feeling on edge, irritable, or be unable to sleep. In that case, you would need help calming your nervous system.
  2. Parents should focus on their own mental health. Children’s regulation is tied often to their caregivers’ emotions. To avoid unintentionally projecting their stress onto the children in their care, parents must prioritize managing their own mental health, so you can share your calm rather than your chaos.
  3. Be proactive vs. reactive. As a parent, you know when trauma anniversaries are coming up. While you don’t want to create an issue if one doesn’t exist for them at that time, you do want to be a partner in their healing journey and create a safe space to talk about anything going on with them. Be consistent in asking your children how they are doing, noticing anything out of the norm, and asking follow-up questions to identify ways they are struggling, so you can help them get the help they need.
  4. Don’t add stress to your body. Ensure the family is getting well-balanced nutrition, full nights of sleep, and don’t overschedule your days. While it may be tempting to stay busy and distracted, stress will still build in the body, and it’s good to ensure you have time to process and rest.
  5. Prioritize the ongoing work. When you or your children have experienced something traumatic, it’s important to do ongoing work with mental health and professional support, so you can proactively learn tools to cope and heal and reduce the negative impact of all triggers, including trauma anniversaries.

While anniversaries are a trigger we share as a community, they are not the only times that our bodies will be taken back to the moment of trauma. These tips can be applied year-round for families to learn to cope and heal.

If you think your child may be at risk of a psychiatric emergency, you and your family are not alone. There are resources available to support families during crisis, and it’s important to also educate your children about these resources.

866-791-9222: 24/7 Crisis Support operated by Youth Villages provides assessment and evaluation of children and youth, up to age 18, who are experiencing a psychiatric emergency across Tennessee.

988: Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, providing 24/7, free and confidential support

211: The most comprehensive source of information about local resources and services in the country, helping millions of people annually meet their basic needs like housing, food, transportation, and health care.

Safe TN App: An anonymous reporting system through which students, faculty, parents, and the public can easily and confidentially report their concerns to help prevent violence in our schools and our communities. It can be downloaded on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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