Dealing with earthquake anxiety

A vehicle hangs precariously over a sinkhole that appeared under it the Health Services Authority carpark on Smith Road following Tuesday's earthquake.- Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

People who were unnerved and remain anxious about the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that shook Cayman on Tuesday are being invited to a free event where they can talk together about the impact of the quake.

Counselling company Infinite Mindcare will holding a session at Books & Books in Camana Bay at 9am on Saturday.

Sutton Burke, clinical director and psychotherapist at Infinite Mindcare, will be leading the discussion, titled ‘The Earthquake: How to shake it off’, which will be open to teens and adults.

Burke said it was important to talk about the impact a natural disaster has on people’s mental health.

“It’s super important to address any unease, worries, and fear we might feel after the earthquake. These feelings after such an event are extremely normal, and acknowledging that they are there, instead of pushing them away, will truly help us move forward. Life is uncertain and natural disasters are out of our control, which can be a scary thought.

Having conversations and working on accepting that uncertainty is important to build resilience,” Burke said.

During a natural disaster, she added, our bodies have a natural, automatic physiological response of flight or fight and, in some instances, freeze.

“A surge of hormones are released in our brain, causing our bodies to feel increased heart rate, quick or short breaths, dilated pupils, shaky feeling. For some of us, this could also include a brain fog. This is our body dealing with stress,” Burke said.

“Everyone deals differently, and everyone suffers differently. There is no right or wrong, and it’s important to validate others’ thoughts and feelings during this time. People with more mental health concerns and illness, may require more support. Please reach out. Ask for help.”

Danielle Coleman, director of Hazard Management Cayman Islands, who will attend the event, noted the importance of people sharing their earthquake experiences.

“Tuesday’s earthquake and subsequent aftershocks have no doubt caused us all a degree of anxiety and distress; a very normal reaction to an event of this nature,” Coleman said.

“Whilst we are very fortunate to escape significant physical damage, we recognise that mental health issues may take some time for people to process. Everyone reacts differently but we encourage you to reach out to friends, family and neighbours and to not be afraid to ask, ‘Are you ok?’”

Some things people can do to shake off any worry and mental stress caused by the earthquake (from Sutton Burke):

  1. Go back to your daily routine as soon as possible
  2. Eat right, drink water, exercise, and focus on good sleep. Limit alcohol and drug use.
  3. Express how you’re feeling to family and friends
  4. Talk to your kids about what happened and discuss ideas around planning for future events. Make sure to stay as calm as possible while providing a safe space for them to share.
  5. Find something positive amongst the chaos and worry, such as “I am grateful to be alive and well” and “I really appreciate how welcoming and caring people were to me after.”
  6. Take calming breaths. Take a minute break from time to time to focus on your breathing. Sit quietly and just watch your breath. Set a timer for a minute, and just notice the breath going in through your nose and out your mouth.
  7. Acknowledge your worried thoughts and feelings, and then remind yourself of your daily goal, or the task you are meant to do in that moment, and get on with it. We are not in the business of brushing off those feelings; allow yourself to feel them for a moment, and then go on to something that is more helpful to you and the way you want your life to be in the now.

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