Just when everyone on the East coast was bracing for a major hurricane, the ground shifted underneath them -- literally. A rare 5.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in Mineral, Virginia struck in the middle of a workday afternoon, affecting some 12 million people from North Carolina to Toronto.
Although, the quake caused minimal damage to person or property, it rattled many Americans, especially since the timing of its occurrence was so close to the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
Anxiety is a normal response to a frightening situation -- whether it's an earthquake, threatened hurricane, or terrorist threat. It is our body's way of preparing us to deal with perceived danger. Some common reactions to such stressors include the following:
-- Worrying excessively about oneself or one's loved ones
-- A sense of shock, numbness or disbelief
-- Impatience and irritability
-- Feeling hypervigilant, overly alert, and on-guard
-- Difficulty focusing on family, work or the ordinary tasks of daily living
-- Difficulty remembering things
-- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
-- Avoidance of things that trigger memories of the event
-- Sleep difficulties and/or changes in appetite
-- Fear of the event recurring
-- Vivid memories of the experience during the day or having nightmares
For most people, these symptoms are experienced briefly, aren't severe, and dissipate over a relatively short period of time. However, events like Virginia's earthquake can exact more of a toll on certain individuals. It may exacerbate the anxieties of people who already have an underlying anxiety disorder (such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a phobia) or those who were subject to traumatic stressors in their past (such as a serious accident, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, or military combat).
If you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned above, here are five things you can do to help the recovery process and reduce your anxiety:
1. Try to remain involved with life and stick to your normal routines.
2. Express your concerns and fears to supportive friends and family members
3. Get sufficient rest, relaxation and exercise and stick to a healthy diet.
4. Adequately (and realistically) prepare for a future emergency (e.g. learning about emergency preparedness).
5. Avoid using alcohol or other drugs to combat uncomfortable feelings
If the symptoms associated with your anxiety are especially severe or persist for more than four weeks; if you're unable to engage in work, family and social life; or you are using drugs or alcohol to cope, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health care professional. For more information on anxiety and its treatment you can also visit www.anxiety.org.
Jason Eric Schiffman, M.D., M.A., M.B.A. is a psychiatrist with the UCLA Anxiety Disorders Program and editor-in-chief of Anxiety.org.