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The following is some helpful advice that has been circulating since the earthquake.

We got it from a trademe discussion board where many people have found it useful. The original link and commentary are

arthquake discussion” href=”″ target=”_blank”>here.

A traumatic incident is any event that has a stressful impact sufficient to overwhelm our usual coping strategies. Traumatic incidents are usually sudden and shocking and outside the range of ordinary human experience. Examples of traumatic incidents include accidents, violent assaults, suicides or suicide attempts by friends or family members and natural disasters e.g., earthquakes and floods. There are strong emotional effects associated with traumatic incidents which are often described as ‘normal responses to abnormal events’.

Learning to recognise the normal reactions and emotions that occur following an abnormal event can help you to understand and feel more at ease with these feelings. This in turn can help you adjust to what has happened.

Common Reactions to Trauma

Each person’s experience is unique, however there are some common reactions among people caught up in a traumatic event. It can be reassuring to know that these reactions are not unusual. Expressing your feelings and talking about your reactions helps.

Some common reactions and feelings are:


Disbelief at what has happened.
Numbness – the event may seem unreal like a dream.


Of death or damage to yourself.
Recurrence of the event.
Personal vulnerability – it may be difficult to admit that you are vulnerable.
You may have panicky irrational feelings.
Other apparently unrelated fears my appear.


Outrage at what has happened or at who ‘caused it or allowed it to happen’.
Anger at the injustice and senselessness of it all.
Anger at medical personnel or police for not acting properly or quickly enough.


Traumatic incidents can show up our human powerlessness to prevent some things from happening.


About human destruction and losses of every kind.
For the loss of the belief that the world is safe and predictable.


For having been exposed as helpless, emotional and needing others.
For perhaps not having reacted as you would have wished.

Different reactions to trauma may occur as time goes by. They usually only last for a short period of time and gradually diminish over the first few weeks. However, sometimes reactions may not appear until some time after the event.

Effects on Behaviour

Tension: You may be more easily startled and agitated.

Sleep Disturbances: You may be finding it difficult to sleep. You might be having thoughts that prevent sleep e.g., a fear of an aftershock, or thinking about the initial quake over and over in your head.

Dreams and Nightmares: You may be dreaming about the incident or other frightening events.

Flashbacks: You may feel that you are re-experiencing the event again and again.

Fearfulness: You may be frightened by reminders of the incident e.g., the place it happened.

Intrusive memories and feelings: Your concentration may be affected by memories, flashbacks and feelings about the event. You may be trying to shut these out which leads to deadening of feelings and thoughts.

Irritability: Your mood may swing up and down. One minute you may be feeling happy and the next
minute very sad or angry.

Depression: You may feel depressed about the event or past events or guilty about how you behaved.

Social Withdrawal: You may have a strong desire to be alone (or you may fear being alone).

Physical Sensations

You may be experiencing a range of physical sensations. These might include:
tiredness, palpitations, tremors, breathing difficulties, headaches, tense muscles, aches and pains, loss of appetite, loss of interest in sex, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation.

Delayed Effects: Any of these effects may occur months or even years after it feels like you have “gotten over it.” Something may suddenly trigger a memory, and some or all of the feelings may come back for a short time. Don’t panic. This is normal and it does not mean you are crazy. The feelings will go away again. But the best way to deal with those feelings (and to make them less likely to recur again) is to deal with them using the techniques that you found most successful in the past — unless that technique was to simply try to ignore them! Ignored feelings have a nasty habit of popping back up at unexpected and annoying times!

All these symptoms are a normal way of reacting to a traumatic event like an earthquake. But they can still be very distressing for you and your family. Simply knowing that it is normal for you or your spouse or friends to feel this way can go a long way to minimising that distress.

What can help?

For Yourself :

  • Rest more
  • Have contact with friends
  • Try not to fight recurring thoughts, dreams and flashbacks
  • Have someone stay with you for at least a few hours in a day
  • Maintain your usual schedule as much as possible
  • Eat balanced meals regularly. Eating a little more often may help
  • Do some physical activity
  • Express your feelings as they arise
  • Talk to people who care about you
  • Talk to a professional counsellor if your feelings are too intense or are prolonged

For supporting Family Members and Friends in need:

  • Listen carefully, but be sensitive to the fact that some people don’t want or need advice or for someone to solve their problems. They just need to be heard.
  • Spend time with the traumatised person
  • Offer support even if you haven’t been asked for help
  • Offer realistic reassurance that they are safe
  • Help with everyday tasks e.g., cooking and cleaning (Who couldn’t benefit from having their garden weeded for them?)
  • Allow privacy
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally
  • Don’t tell them they are “lucky it wasn’t worse” or give unrealistic advice. This isn’t consoling, instead it minimises the traumatised person’s feelings and experience.
  • Tell them that you are sorry such an event occurred and that you want to understand and assist them
  • Help them to feel ok about getting counselling. As we like to say, “anyone who has been through a traumatic experience and does NOT get counselling ought to have their head examined!!!” Counselling is NOT a sign of weakness or mental illness. It is a proactive way to deal with normal problems. No one should feel (or be made to feel) ashamed or embarrassed about it.

There are a number of counselling services both provided by the Employers association or Lifeline or Youthline are a good source of Free or low cost help. Mensline is also a good place for men to go to talk!

Many Cantabrians have been in a hell for a prolonged period of time, living in extreme fear, deprived of sleep, stressed and then discovered the basis of getting through each day: i.e., that matters weren’t going to get any worse and all was on the upper. Well that belief was stolen from us.

Remember this: when you come out of the storm, nature has a way of giving a high exceeding in the opposite spectrum what you have suffered, so we are due some very sunny time.

So plenty of ingredients there for being worn down: Living like that can and will deplete the body of minerals, exasperating the problems.

Sleep, diet and replenishing minerals are all vital. Stress will drain serotonin this must be replaced.

Time away from current environment is a great start if not essential. Those of us outside of Christchurch and not caught up in the mess need to understand this and do what we can to supply that time away — well away — be it in holiday home, batches etc (and not for profit). This support will have to be for the longer term and not just in first months.

(Posted by Tradme member Mrdairyflat of the Hibiscus coast. Thanks to him for sharing his thoughts and concerns with those of us down here in Christchurch. The entire discussion that ensued on the discussion board can be found here. Feel free to carry on the discussion on that thread, or email us with your thoughts, reactions, opinions, or links to other helpful resources. Mensline Can be reached on