For many people, the disruption caused by the earthquakes of 2010-11 is continuing. The stress has changed and is now related to insurance, EQC, housing, business and schooling concerns. The way people respond to and cope with these issues is similar to how they dealt with the earthquakes.
February 2016 update
The All Right? campaign has released new research about the mental health of people in Canterbury. It recently carried out a survey and conducted focus groups.
The research shows that people are generally feeling better than when the survey was first carried out in 2012. But unsettled insurance claims are still affecting how people feel. People are also still grieving for what they have lost.
Overseas research shows that it can take up to a decade for a region's mental health to recover after a natural disaster. In Canterbury, we have had many natural disasters over a long period. There have also been a lot of other factors causing stress. That means the recovery might take even longer here.
Common responses to stress
When you are stressed, it's normal to have the following thoughts and experiences:
- feeling tired and exhausted, especially as the problems continue
- feeling frightened, on edge, nervous, and tense
- having difficulty getting to sleep, or waking a lot during the night, waking early and not going back to sleep, or having nightmares
- being easily startled and looking out for danger
- feeling fear, sadness, grief, guilt or self-blame, shame, irritability, or anger
- feeling numb or detached from yourself or others. You may also have big mood swings
- having symptoms of anxiety, like a racing heart, rapid breathing, trembling, sweating, loss of appetite, and stomach upsets
- having difficulty concentrating, making decisions and remembering – which may make you less productive
- feeling that you can't control anything
- worrying about what might have been, or struggling to deal with continuing problems
- continuing to have thoughts and memories about negative events pop into your mind, even days or weeks afterwards
- feeling as if the distressing events are happening again (flashbacks)
- feeling disconnected from reality, like you’re in a dream
- having more conflict in your relationships, being over-protective or socially withdrawing.
It is really important to give yourself time to work through the stress you are feeling. There are many different ways of coping. These may include:
- talking to family, friends, neighbours and colleagues if you want to. This may help you feel less alone and more understood. You might also get offers of help. If you don't feel like talking that's okay too
- trying to keep a regular sleep pattern
- getting back to your usual routines if and when possible (such as housework, meals, interacting with others, exercise)
- eating regularly and well
- keeping physically active, which helps reduce tension and anxiety
- pacing yourself by keeping busy, but also taking time to relax
- doing things you enjoy or find satisfying. This will improve your mood and give you less time to brood. Everyone needs to feel satisfaction sometimes
- being careful not to watch or read too much media coverage about the continuing earthquake-related problems, as this may just make you feel worse
- setting realistic goals. Don't try to get everything done at once, as it will just exhaust you
- limiting how much caffeine you have – four to six cups of caffeinated drinks a day may make you more anxious, and stop you from sleeping well
- trying not to drink too much alcohol or use recreational drugs. These may relax you at first, but as they withdraw from your system, they are likely to make you more anxious and affect how well you sleep.
There is no set way of doing this. Whatever feels right for you will work best.
Many people are worried about how the continuing problems are affecting their children. It is important to remember that children generally are resilient.
However, younger children may be more clingy, have bad dreams, lose their appetite, or complain of physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.
To support children:
- be supportive and reassuring. You may need to hold your children more often
- remember that your child’s fears are genuine to them. They may worry that they need you close by. Talk this through with them
- listen to your child’s fears and explanations about what's happening
- try to not show any anxiety you feel, as children may pick up on this
- limit children’s exposure to media and TV coverage
- keep to regular routines, such as meals and bedtimes
- be nurturing but firm if your children are showing aggression or anger, pointing out their behaviour is not acceptable.
If you feel that things are not settling, you should contact your GP for advice on how to get appropriate help, or phone the Canterbury Earthquake Support Line on 0800‑777‑846.
Local health professionals recommend the following pages.
Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Updated March 2016.
Photos courtesy of marin and imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Review key: HISTS-111503