An Eye On Japan: Natural Disasters And Trauma

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Image credit: photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash.

Fukishima nuclear accident[Image credit: The Huffington Post]

The world has watched in horror since a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the northeastern coast of Japan, bringing devastation, death, nuclear unease - and astounding displays of courage.

Amid images of rubble, flooding, and fear, inspiring stories of survivors keep pouring in.

Natural disasters can damage a person financially, emotionally, and mentally, and the trauma associated with it can linger in the lives of these brave survivors even longer than the physical aftershocks.

When your entire life and nation is tossed into a sea of confusion and devastation, the shock and horror can often give way to trauma.

Trauma Defined, And The Effects Of Trauma

Trauma occurs when our mind and body cannot process an event that is horrific, disturbing, or psychologically overwhelming to us.

The experience gets “stuck” in the body, and the person who has been traumatized continues to relive the experience as though it were still presently happening, even years later.

They may experience nightmares, numbness, a constant sense of anxiety, hyper vigilance, flashbacks, and panic when faced with triggers that remind them of the initial trauma.

In an interview with TIME magazine, Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University, stated that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect nearly 30% of those who experience natural disasters. [You can read the article here.]

Lesser post-traumatic symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping after an earthquake, are common, but may not develop into the disorder. 

Coping With Trauma And Trauma Treatments

The way one copes with a traumatic experience varies depending on the person:

  • Many may not be willing or ready to discuss the event after it happens.
  • Some research indicates that it is important for the anxiety of the immediate crisis to pass before attempting to explore coping strategies.
  • Professionals suggest offering a safe place for the person to discuss their experience when they are ready without forcing the conversation.
  • Social support is extremely important during a traumatic event. A sense of community is often the strongest indicator of the ability of a person to process a trauma in a healthy way.
  • Simply knowing that they are not alone can work wonders on their ability to heal and move beyond the devastation.

Our hearts go out to those who are trying to rebuild their lives and their nation in the aftermath of the quake.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Natural disasters can bring devastation to the lives of those who survive them. Anxiety, depression, grief, and post-traumatic symptoms can make recovering from the experience extremely difficult. The help of a psychotherapist can offer support and guidance in this time of need. To speak with a client care consultant, contact us at (516) 221-9494.

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