Quaking in their boots: Seismophobia affecting California residents
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09-01-15 Category: Anxiety, Mental Health, Stress


The fear of looming natural disasters can be the source of anxiety for many individuals worldwide. There is often anxiety surrounding earthquakes for residents living on the West Coast, particularly since the devastating 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California. This seismophobia, or fear of earthquakes, can cause individuals to panic at the slightest vibrations or ground movement. While anxiety is a very real and often debilitating mental health issue, specialists believe that the general public’s overreaction to the threat of an impending earthquake unnecessarily fuels these high levels anxiety.

In California, the fear of a massive earthquake often compounds with news of other natural disasters worldwide. Following the 2011 tsunami in Japan that left over 15,000 people dead, residents of Los Angeles began stocking up on supplies in the case of an earthquake or other natural disaster that might leave resources scarce. Companies selling “nuclear fallout bunkers” and “survival pods” also reported record sales following natural disasters across the globe. Sellers of this survival equipment believe the threat of an earthquake that will wreak havoc on the West Coast is blown out of proportion. As Bret Kimmel, president of Military Outdoor Clothing, states, “Americans always overreact [because] they can afford to overreact.” However, much of the public remains steadfast in its concern. One extreme case is that of Michael Jaworski, a 35-year-old resident of Hollywood, California, who purchased propane stoves, gas masks and first aid kids following the tsunami in Japan. He stated, “Something’s going to happen. The question is when.”

Seismophobia can be directly related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who lived through the 1994 Northridge earthquake, for instance, are likely to experience anxiety at small quakes or even the mere thought of a quake predicted by seismologists. Symptoms of anxiety can include panic, insomnia, restlessness, shortness of breath and nausea. For those struggling with PTSD, these events might cause panic and a need to check on loved ones to make sure they are alright following even very small magnitude earthquakes. Due to the very real anxiety many Angelenos face, there are psychotherapists who specialize in treating seismophobia. One such psychotherapist, Carol Boulware, Ph.D., states on her webpage, “In a safe and supportive environment, I work with the mind-body connection to help release unwanted symptoms of earthquake fears. This unique therapy approach releases frightening images, feelings, memories of past earthquakes and helps you cope and reduce the fears of future earthquakes.”

Though it is debatable whether extreme anxiety related to natural disasters is rational or warranted, particularly as it pertains to seismophobia, those struggling with the condition have serious physical and emotional reactions that affect their mental health. If you or a loved one is struggling with seismophobia or any other anxiety disorder, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group

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