9/11 Anniversary Reactions: What Can We Do With Our Grief?

This Sunday is the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, a day forever associated with feelings of shock and horror, anguish over missing people and fears of additional terrorism. For many (if not most of us), the day was a profound reminder of life’s fragility.

Ten years later, for most of us, life has moved on. We’ve experienced weddings, births, new jobs, new milestones. Americans are resilient, and we learned just how true that was in the years after 9/11. But anniversaries, especially the ones which seem to be significant, can make many adults and children experience reactions to memories and images related to 9/11.

What are anniversary feelings and why do they happen to us?

When a highly traumatic event happens in our lives, it is common to experience a host of feelings in the days and weeks prior to, the day of, and after the anniversary.  For example, you may have trouble sleeping and feel more tired. You can’t get upsetting images out of your mind. You find it hard to concentrate, cry more, startle more easily. You might feel generally more nervous or just off. You may feel uncomfortable being alone and have a stronger desire to be with friends or family.  These symptoms are likely to go away on their own soon after the anniversary date.

What can trigger an anniversary reaction?

The triggers of an anniversary reaction are as individual as each person who experienced the day. For some, it could be memories and images from the actual event. For others, it could be watching retrospective news coverage and television documentaries. Still there are those who may feel discomfort hearing emergency sirens, traveling on a plane, or evacuating a tall building through a stairwell.

What are more serious reactions?  

For some individuals, the 9/11 anniversary will trigger more serious symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. These symptoms may have started soon after 9/11 or months or years later. Symptoms can be retriggered during anniversaries of overwhelming and frightening events. While most reactions to anniversaries go away on their own, the symptoms of PTSD often do not. This is when it’s important to talk to a mental health professional.

What are some ways to acknowledge 9/11 and my grief? 

We all cope differently and have different needs around dates of traumatic events.  Some individuals will just make a mental note of the date and not give it much more thought.  For others, however, it is important to “do” something to mark the date, experience and loss.  Consider some of these options:

  • Take time to be with family or friends. Stay connected instead of being alone.
  • Or be alone. Disconnect from the news and visit a park, lake or someplace outdoors. Take time out of a hike to reflect on the quiet, calm and beauty around you.
  • Visit a grave or memorial site of a loved one, friend or colleague, if it brings you comfort in any way.
  • Attend a community, school or faith-based event in remembrance of 9/11.
  • Make a donation to your local emergency responders association, such as a fire, police or EMS department.
  • Light a candle in memory of someone special or to mark the day.
  • Plant a tree or flowers in memory of someone special. Create and nurture a garden at home or in the community.
  • Write about your feelings and what they day means to you now.
  • Make a commitment to volunteer with an organization or cause you support.
  • Create a new tradition so the day has a positive meaning.

Whatever you chose to do or not do to mark 9/11, remember to take good care of yourself.  It’s common during difficult and more stressful times to forget about good nutrition, exercise and relaxation just at the time when they may be most important to our health and well-being.  The 10th anniversary of 911 is certainly likely to be a powerful day for so many individuals, families, communities, organizations and countries.

Remember, you were not alone 10 years ago experiencing the day America changed. And you are not alone in your grief 10 years later.

Photo by ClatieK (via Flickr)


Psychologist Rosemary Schwartzbard, PhD, talks about how 9/11 has become an emotional milestone for many people and discusses how people can change the meaning of the day. Dr. Schwartzbard was one of the psychologists on scene at the Pentagon immediately following the events of September 11.

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One Response to “9/11 Anniversary Reactions: What Can We Do With Our Grief?”

  1. Barbara Melamed   September 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I lived thru 9/11 One of my patients died…one of my Muslim student’s mother had a heart attack leaving the lobby after watching someone jump and hit the cement. Her daughter died jumping from their burning home in Sierra Leona.

    It is hard to let go.

    This blog was useful but with two us citizens threatening a repeat bombing its hard to forgive and forget. My current work with the armed forces and the stories of killing that I hear from my soldiers also makes me want to cry.