Earthquakes and Israel - A Psychological Perspective

Dr. Batya L. Ludman

Israel seems to go from one traumatic event to the next. Today, we got to experience what for most Israelis was their first earthquake. Seasoned to believe that it was a bombing, this was the initial response for many. For some it was new and exciting and for others, it was frightening and quite unpleasant. We Israelis are a resilient group and even when we don’t know what to expect next, we bounce back quickly. Clearly some practical suggestions need to be given with respect to managing our lives in an earthquake zone and while we may still feel anxious, being prepared and knowing what we can do will help give each person a sense of control back in their lives. In the meantime we have to be prepared psychologically.

Assuming that Israel is not going to be bombarded with lots of earthquakes, this too shall soon become one more thing we simply had to deal with in the course of the day. While not an insignificant quake, the damage thank G-d appears to have been minimal.

It is important to point out that after any traumatic event, most people experience an increase in anxiety. For some this gets translated as talking to friends about where and what they were doing when they felt the tremor, to others they will feel more anxious when they hear a heavy vehicle drive by outside. Some may run for the chocolate, the telephone or even the nearest bomb shelter.

Israelis all cope differently. Some may experience physical symptoms such as nausea, an increased heart rate, headaches or neck pain, others will feel disturbances in focusing, concentration and memory, others will have increased irritability and others may seem introspective and quiet. All of these are very normal reactions to a not so normal, or abnormal event. They last typically a day or so and with time, they begin to subside. Our brains simply need the opportunity to react to what happened, attempt to adjust and regain a sense of equilibrium once again. Increased anxiety is not pleasant but does not mean that you are going crazy. If you find yourself obsessed with what happened, find that your symptoms don’t go away or worsen with time and if you feel you are having difficulty coping, speak to a professional. You may not need anything more than simple reassurance! There is a cumulative effect of trauma and those who have experienced a recent death, a terror attack or another traumatic event in Israel may feel a greater impact of the earthquake than others. If so, get some help.

For our children following these principles.

Talk to them about what they experienced and give them the opportunity to ask questions. Some children may want to draw about what happened rather than talk. That is okay also. Reassure them as best as possible if they are concerned.

Make the information developmentally and age appropriate. Typically, children do best with simple and straightforward explanations and not a lot of unnecessary details. While it is important to be honest and upfront, it serves no purpose to overwhelm them with your fears.

Many Israeli children know far more than we realize and most if not all children who attend school have had many prepatory drills and are both informed and quite “cool”. Children can go from being intensely concerned by details to nonchalantly playing with a friend in a short span of time. Adults on the other hand tend to be more uptight and anxious for more prolonged periods of time.

You may be feeling tense but they don’t have to. It is important to choose your words carefully to ensure that you get the message across that you hope to convey. When listening to their questions, you may need to probe deeper to find out what they are really asking, or maybe, it is only you, and not they, that see the deeper issues. It is important to clear up any inaccuracies that your children may have as this confusion can only complicate an already difficult situation. The element of not being able to predict can be especially difficult and this fear of the unknown is often what causes us the most anxiety as we play games in our minds and imagine the worst. This is important to point out to children as often they do the same. While it is fine to acknowledge that you have concerns and cannot necessarily answer all the questions, you can also help them have many of their concerns addressed and clarified.

Expect that for some children they too may feel somewhat more anxious about separation from you, have a harder time with bedtime or be afraid of loud noises such as thunder.

Be prepared that some older children may vacillate between finding it as another exciting Israeli adventure to being consumed with their own safety.

Be honest but don’t give children lots of extra information that they don’t need. They need to know that you will do all you can to look after their safety and security and help them reestablish a sense of control.

Think relaxation. Practice relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation or prayer to enable everyone to feel calm. Young children do well when they can pretend to be limp spaghetti noodles and older children like to pretend that they are lying on a nice beach or floating on a pond. Having a response that is calming is the perfect response to stress.

Read up and be prepared on what supplies you should have with you and know what the suggested emergency procedures and numbers are for your area. Keep this list close at hand. Preparation is a wonderful way to cope when we are not yet quite sure just what it is we are going to be coping with.

Be aware that how you cope will directly impact on how they cope. If you cope well, your children will cope well. Children need to see you as an effective role model.

Assuming that all settles down quickly, Israelis will be back to their old routines in no time. In the meantime chalk it up to one of those experiences that helps give us character. Here is hoping that the ground under your feet stays steady.

Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. She specializes in trauma, bereavement and loss, stress, anxiety and depression, parenting issues, behavioral problems, and marital/communication issues. For more information, please view her website at