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An earthquake is the shifting of the Earth’s plates, which results in a sudden shaking of the ground that can last for a few seconds to a few minutes. Within seconds, mild initial shaking can strengthen and become violent. Earthquakes happen without warning and can happen at any time of year. Certain states are more prone to higher frequency of earthquakes, particularly California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Washington.

Earthquakes are quite common and occur somewhere around the world every day. However, the vast majority are considered minor. The U.S. Geological Survey in 2015 reported more than 3,000 earthquakes in the United States.

Even minor earthquakes that cause little damage and destruction can cause people to experience emotional distress (especially in areas not accustomed to these events). Aftershocks can continue to occur for months afterwards and can be just as stressful.

It’s normal for people to experience emotional distress during an earthquake. Simply anticipating the possibility of what could be lost or destroyed during the event can cause people to experience overwhelming anxiety or lose sleep. Other signs of emotional distress related to earthquakes include:

  • Being easily startled
  • Having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Having thoughts and memories related to the earthquake that you can’t get out of your head

Learn more about the warning signs and risk factors for emotional distress related to earthquakes and other disasters.

Where Can I Get Help?

The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) is the first national hotline dedicated to providing year-round disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 to all residents in the U.S. and its territories who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

 Call or text 1-800-985-5990

Standard text and data message rates will apply when texting from mobile phones. International text and data rates may apply from within U.S. territories and free association nations.

Who is at Risk for Emotional Distress?

The following groups are most at risk for emotional distress due to earthquakes:

  • Earthquake survivors. People living in impacted areas, particularly children and teens, previously exposed to traumatic, life-threatening situations are especially vulnerable to emotional distress. These people also may have once been displaced.
  • Friends and loved ones. It’s normal for friends and family members located outside the impacted area to feel anxious about people who are in direct proximity to an earthquake.
  • First responders and recovery workers. These individuals may experience prolonged separation from loved ones (depending on the severity of the earthquake) and show signs of mental fatigue.

Returning to a home, business, school, or place of worship impacted by an earthquake may cause additional distress, especially if there is structural damage. A temporary or permanent loss of employment may also occur.

Remember, too, that the anniversary of a disaster or tragic event can renew feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness in disaster survivors. Sounds such as sirens or the sight of destroyed buildings or cracks in the walls can also trigger emotional distress among earthquake survivors. These and other environmental sensations can take people right back to the event, or cause them to fear that it’s about to happen again. These “trigger events” can happen at any time.

Creating evacuation plans and gathering emergency supplies before an earthquake occurs can give you a sense of control and help you and your loved ones feel more secure in the event of an earthquake.

People can experience a wide range of emotions before and after a disaster or traumatic event. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. However, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope when these events happen. Learn about coping tips for dealing with earthquakes and other types of disasters.

Additional Resources About Earthquakes

The SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) also helps states, territories, tribes, and local entities deliver an effective mental health and substance abuse (behavioral health) response to earthquakes and other natural disasters. Learn more about these issues and find more disaster-related resources at Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

Last Updated
Last Updated: 06/09/2023
Last Updated