‘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.

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.

[How to talk with your kids after an earthquake]


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.

Related stories:

‘In the millions of dollars': Earthquake damage assessments continue amid aftershocks

Assembly extends emergency declaration for Anchorage until Tuesday

Why the 7.0 earthquake was felt differently across Anchorage — and why it has potential for more big aftershocks

The day after: Alaskans clean up and reflect after 7.0 quake

Do Anchorage residents still need to boil their water? Yes and no, city officials say

Alaska Railroad reports impassable track north of Anchorage after earthquake


Snow is in the forecast as city recovers from quake

Anchorage fire chief: How to look for serious structural damage at home

Experts: Alaska quake damage could have been much worse

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

How to talk with your kids after an earthquake

Photos: Day 2 of earthquake recovery in the Anchorage area

Quake was Anchorage’s most significant since 1964

At 8:29 Friday morning, everyone emerged from Alaska’s big earthquake with a story to tell

Photos: Earthquake damage from the air

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email