Phantom Earthquake
September 28, 2012 3:12 PM   Subscribe

There was a large-ish (6.9) earthquake in my area on Wednesday. Since then, I've felt a number of "phantom" earthquakes (along with a number of real aftershocks). Is there anything I can do to stop feeling the "phantom" quakes?

The buildings here were all built to withstand significant seismic activity, as we're right on the ring of fire, so I'm not super concerned. There were no injuries or significant damage. The actual experience of the earthquake was somewhat scary, but really not bad. I just keep feeling movement that I'm pretty sure is not real, and I'd like to not.
posted by charmcityblues to Science & Nature (11 answers total)
I'm from California and it took me quite a while to get over that feeling after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989.

Aftershocks don't help, large trucks driving by don't help, only a period of time without siesmic activity will help. We experienced after-shocks for months after, so I'm quite familiar with what you're feeling.

Try doing something with motion. Go for a drive, or do some exercise, that might help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:18 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to the earthquake thing specifically, but when I had similar issues with recurrent phantom "creepy-crawly" sensations after a traumatic bug-related event earlier this year (long story), what really helped was having a means close at hand by which I could immediately, empirically verify that what I was feeling was an illusion and not real insects. That didn't necessarily cut down on the sensations, but it definitely helped keep me from obsessing over them or responding with panic and stress, and after about a month, the feelings just went away. Could you perhaps keep a glass of water nearby, or, you know, rig a little pendulum in a frame or something, so that when you feel shaking, you can immediately look over and confirm "Yep, all in my head, nothing to worry about"?
posted by Bardolph at 5:26 PM on September 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, which has been very seismically active for the past 2 years. I have to say that I still feel phantom quakes all the time, mostly because we still constantly get aftershocks.
Usually it is just a truck driving past or something. It is kind of like that sensation where you feel like your phone is constantly vibrating in your pocket even when it isn't.
You get used to it after a while and it stops being worrying.
I agree that it does help to have something in the room to verify whether it is an actual quake or not, like a glass of water...I always look at my light shade which hangs down from a cord to verify that I am not imagining things. And I agree with Ruthless Bunny that being in motion does mean that you don't feel them, although obviously you can't be in motion all of the time.
Sorry my advice doesn't amount to much more than "you'll get used to it" stops being such a thing once the aftershocks calm down to being once every couple of weeks.
posted by kwes at 6:12 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You may also be feeling very low-frequency sound waves which may/may not be registering as after-shocks. Some folks seem to be more sensitive to them, and your spidey-sense about tremors is already tingling. The always informative and accurate Wikipedia discusses infrasound here.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:08 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might make you feel a bit better to know this also happens with such mundane items as cellphones.

Basically, you have a heightened sense of awareness for earthquakes at the moment, so your brain lets anything even remotely matching that pattern past your normal filters, "just in case".
posted by pla at 7:09 PM on September 28, 2012

Uh, so we don't get many earthquakes here in Boston, but my upstairs neighbors used to Vigorously shake the triple decker during sexy times - which I initially thought was earthquakes. I found Bardolph's methods really helpful for figuring out whether or not it was real or not, which helped. I used: houseplants shaking, water in a glass, blinds/shades moving, and a bell (decorative cowbell, I hadn't placed it for this purpose, really!) as indicators.

Once I had better "empirical" evidence I could more readily let go of the panicky feeling.
posted by ldthomps at 7:28 PM on September 28, 2012

Having stuff nearby to verify is a really good one.

Also make sure to give your senses a complete time-out. Warm baths/showers, massages, meditation - anything along those lines. Right now you're hyper-aware; deliberate relaxation helps reduce that.

(I hid under a coffee table for an entire day after the Whittier quake in... 87, was it? I felt phantom shocks and had a wide variety of anxiety symptoms for ages afterward.)
posted by SMPA at 8:24 PM on September 28, 2012

Another Christchurch resident here -- seconding the view that there's nothing you can do, but you'll get used to it. Hopefully, your area won't still be getting shocks two years later.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:49 PM on September 28, 2012

Is there anything I can do to stop feeling the "phantom" quakes?
Why not use this as an opportunity to tune in to the vibrations around you? Your heightened sensitivity will pass, but it is actually kind of interesting to pay close attention to the things around you that cause low-frequency vibrations.

Essentially, you are transforming a "fear" reflex into a "hmm, I'd better pay close attention to see if I *should* be afraid" reflex. And you get to connect more closely with the environment around you at the same time.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:14 AM on September 29, 2012

Thanks, everyone, for the input and kind words. It has helped a lot to have a glass of water nearby to check. I'm also feeling a lot less hyper-attuned, though we're still getting a good number of aftershocks, but it's kind of business as usual at this point. We are very fortunate to live in an area that was built to be as earthquake resistant as possible.

Folks who were in Christchurch, Loma Prieta, etc, you have my empathy. It's a scary thing.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:10 PM on October 1, 2012

I was looking back at this thread because we had another big earthquake (7.0 this time) and are currently experiencing dozens of aftershocks every day. Just wanted to say thanks again to everyone who answered, your suggestions are very helpful.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2013

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