Possible to beat quake-related stress

21:44, Jul 25 2013
Dr Sarb Johal
Clinical Psychologist Dr Sarb Johal speaking about the pyschcosocial aspects of the earthquake swarm.

Eating and drinking regularly, a focus on self-care, not over-working and managing emotions by not feeding negative feelings all helped overcome emergency-related stress, residents of the Seddon area were told last night.

The speaker was GNS-Massey University Joint Centre for Disaster Research associate professor Dr Sarb Johal, a clinical psychologist, who was brought in for a special meeting in Seddon to talk about the week of earthquakes that have rattled the Marlborough region, centred in Cook Strait east of the town.

Dr Johal talked about dealing with quake-related stress, saying many people felt tired and drained after an event like the magnitude 6.5 earthquake that shook Marlborough on Sunday night.

Feelings of agitation and restlessness were common, as well as a sense of disorientation, which was related to people's balance.

"[In an earthquake] your heart is racing, you feel ready to do something, but your eyes are telling you there is no shaking. That can be quite disorienting."

If it went on for several days it could make people tired with symptoms similar to feeling seasick, he said.


People needed to put their emotions to one side to deal with the situation. The challenge was to focus on what needed to be done rather than what might happen, he said.

Being in a constant state of alertness for days on end could make people stressed and easily agitated, which affected their decision-making.

This constant state of unresolved emergency was known as emergency threat stress, which many people in Seddon and wider Marlborough would be feeling after the week of quakes and aftershocks, he said.

Common symptoms were loss of energy, tiredness, physical weakness, difficulty sleeping and a preoccupation with what could happen.

It did not usually continue for more than six days, but there were steps to take if it did, he said.

Eating and drinking regularly, a focus on self-care, not over-working, and managing emotions by not feeding negative feelings all helped to overcome stress.

Children took their lead from how they saw adults manage. The majority of people, regardless of age, acted sensibly in a crisis when they understood and were equipped with an understanding of the situation.

It was important for parents and caregivers to stay calm and explain what was happening in an emergency situation, he said.


Be real, explain what adults are feeling and doing.

Remain calm and avoid displaying unnecessary distress.

Explain what you are doing to keep them safe, show how your knowledge helps meet the threat.

Reassure them that they are brave, will manage and that you are confident in them.

Show affection and comfort them when they are upset, then encourage them to meet the threat


Manage quake-related stress:

Don't work till you drop – it takes too long to recover.

Don't think about emotional problems when you are tired.

Manage emotions by not feeding negative feelings. If you have negative emotions, talk about them rather than expressing them directly.

When you are angry or upset, vent your emotions with one person as emotional distress is contagious.

If you are afraid of how big a situation is, focus on something you can do and do it.

Even if it is urgent, plan what you are doing, don't act impulsively. 

The Marlborough Express