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‘We’re all shaken up': It’s normal to feel scared, anxious and helpless after a big quake. Here’s what to do about it.

  • Author: Kyle Hopkins
  • Updated: December 2, 2018
  • Published December 1, 2018

It’s not just you. People all over Southcentral Alaska had trouble sleeping, leaped at every aftershock and woke today with a kind of earthquake hangover.

“We are all shaken up after last night’s aftershocks," said Natasha Pineda, director for the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s normal to feel anxious, sad or angry.”

The 7.0 magnitude quake that cracked houses and shattered roads resulted in no apparent loss of life. But during those heart-racing moments early Friday morning, some Alaskans feared the worst. Then came a series of smaller jolts over the past 24 hours, many reaching magnitude 4.0 or above. As City Manager Bill Falsey put it, “Every one of these in a normal (day) would have been a real, no-kidding Alaska earthquake."

“This is an ongoing event for people,” Falsey said. “People are twitchy. That is not all in your head.”

Researchers have found that large earthquakes can result in post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, including symptoms of reliving the event in your mind, struggling to concentrate and a state of “hyper-vigilance."

“I felt yesterday like I had one final nerve, and every aftershock was playing on that nerve," said K.J. Worbey, a mental health counselor for Southcentral Foundation.

Worbey said people should not ignore those feelings of anxiety.

“As a city and with our neighbors in Mat-Su, we all just had a huge emotional jolt," she said. “And lots of uncertainly about our own safety. Safety of our families and our homes. ... When we are faced with that kind of an emotional crisis, it takes a whole lot of energy to navigate it.”

Worbey recommended staying away from alcohol, eating appropriately and getting out to exercise. “Try to get some energy out. Try and get that excess emotional stuff out,” she said.

City health department director Natasha Pineda offered additional suggestions for coping with anxiety and calming children. Her advice:

• “As much as possible you should stick to normal routines. Normal mealtimes, bedtimes. Especially if you have children.”

• “Take slow, measured breaths if you are feeling anxious or uncomfortable. Those with pre-existing mental health issues, stick with your treatment plan.”

• Seek social connections. Check on your neighbors. Make sure you are making an extra effort to connect to those around you.”

• For parents: “Have open lines of communication. Your children and your teenagers may feel anxious. They may ask the same question repeatedly. It’s OK to say that sometimes adults don’t know why things happen. But it’s important to let them continue to ask those questions. Do your best to be supportive, predictable and loving.”

As with adults, kids would benefit from getting outside, playing and staying active, she said.

Anyone who feels like they need immediate help with a mental health crisis can call a statewide hotline at (877) 266-HELP.

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