In the massive earthquakes that have hit Kumamoto Prefecture and surrounding areas, many people have been killed or injured. Homes and other structures have collapsed, and roads have cracked or caved in.
One of the most unique characteristics of the latest disaster is the incredible number of ongoing aftershocks. No one can escape the ground on which they stand, so when it shakes, it can cause deep fear. Such circumstances can lead to anticipatory anxiety, a phenomenon in which people cannot get the fear that a temblor will strike again out of their heads, causing yet more anxiety. Some people are impacted and overwhelmed more by such anticipatory anxiety than by the actual earthquakes.
Among those who live outside the directly affected areas but have experienced major earthquakes themselves, seeing news reports and photos of the latest disaster can also trigger flashbacks, sometimes causing dizziness and headaches.
The Kumamoto Earthquake, therefore, has wrought psychological pain not only on those who live near the epicenter, but also to those who live far away. How, then, can we mitigate psychological damage from the disaster?
Some say that people need professional help, but I think it's too soon for that. What's important is to first secure a place where one can be as safe and as comfortable as possible. For example, if you're in an evacuation center, try to put up a wall to create some privacy between you and your neighbors, and stretch out your legs. People living outside the disaster areas should try not to overwork, and take time for nutritious meals and comforting baths, at least for the time being. And for now, put off thinking about why the earthquakes are happening, and try to regain a sense of normalcy by sticking to your routine when it comes to eating, sleeping and relaxing.
To protect yourself emotionally from various fears and anxieties, and to prevent the psychological effects of the disaster from becoming long-lasting, make self-care and keeping up a routine your top priority. Taking care of your body in turn helps take care of your mind and emotions.
It will take the areas that have been hard hit by the quakes a long time to rebuild. Recovery will require assistance from across the country. That's why, for now, you must all take care of yourselves first. And once the emotional and physical energy depleted by the disaster has been replenished, can you stand up again and move forward. Urging survivors still in the midst of aftershocks, "Don't give up," or "Cheer up," may be important. But I'd also like to send the message to first, rest up. There is no need to rush. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)