Common reactions to an earthquake (and aftershocks)

Most people involved in a very stressful incident experience some kind of emotional reaction. Although each person’s experience is different, there are a number of common responses that are experienced by the majority of those involved. It is reassuring to know that, even though these feelings can be very unpleasant, they are NORMAL reactions in a normal person to an ABNORMAL event. You are not losing your mind or going crazy if you have these feelings. It is often difficult for those who were not involved to understand what the survivor is going through; you may wish to show this information to friends and relatives, and perhaps discuss your reactions with them.

Outlined below are some of the normal reactions to crisis events:


disbelief at what happened
feeling numb, as if things are unreal
of a recurrence
for the safety of oneself or one’s family
apparently unrelated fears
at who caused it or “allowed it to happen”
at the injustice and senselessness of it all
generalised anger and irritability
about the losses, both human and material
about the loss of feelings of safety and security
feeling depressed for no reason
for having appeared helpless or emotional
for not behaving as you would have liked


difficulty getting off because of intrusive thoughts
restless and disturbed sleep
feeling tired and fatigued
Physical Problems
easily startled by noises
general agitation and muscle tension
palpitations, trembling or sweating
breathing difficulties
nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
many other physical signs and symptoms


frequent thoughts or images of the incident
thoughts or images of other frightening events
flashbacks or a feeling of “reliving” the experience
attempts to shut out the painful memories
pictures of what happened jumping into your head
dreams and nightmares about what happened
unpleasant dreams of other frightening things
difficulty making simple decisions
inability to concentrate and memory problems


withdrawal from others and a need to be alone
easily irritated by other people
feelings of detachment from others
loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies
not wanting to go to work, poor motivation
poor concentration and attention
increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs
loss of appetite or increased eating
loss of interest in enjoyable activities
loss of sexual interest

Remember that all responses are NORMAL to an ABNORMAL situation.

It will take time before you start to feel better. You may have strong feelings right away. Or you may not notice a change until much later, after the crisis is over. Stress can change how you act with your friends and family. It will take time for you to feel better and for your life to return to normal. Give yourself time to heal.

Tomorrow, I’ll write more about practical steps you can take, but take a look at this post for now.


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