Some people actually enjoy adverse weather conditions consisting of rain, lightning or thunder. Some even take great risks to study hurricanes and storm patterns while others simply love to experience rain firsthand, every now and then.
In other cases though, animals and humans alike can develop an extreme fear of thunder, lightning or rainstorms. Such irrational fear of thunder or lightning is known by several names such as Astraphobia, Brontophobia, Tonitrophobia etc.
Causes of Astraphobia
Extremely common in children, most cases of excessive fear of thunder or lightning gradually diminish over the years. However, many adults are known to suffer excessively from Astraphobia mainly due to a prior traumatic event associated with such adverse weather.
- In many cases of Astraphobia, the sufferer is known to have experienced an electric shock when there is lightning and thunder outside. This leads to a fear of storms which persists through adulthood.
- Many a phobic is also known to fear flooding which usually results from heavy rain. Such a person might have been negatively impacted by floods, lost a dear one or has had property damaged by it.
- People who are generally categorized as ‘high strung’ or ‘nervous’ and as having ‘general tendency towards fear and anxiety’ are more likely to develop an excessive fear of thunderstorms, lightning etc.
Symptoms of fear of thunder and lightning
An individual suffering from this phobia will constantly watch the weather channel to ensure all is fine with the weather. S/he might also install lightning rods on buildings for protection. In event of an adverse weather forecast, the Astraphobic might panic and experience severe anxiety. A variety of psychological and physical symptoms might be present including:
- Fainting/passing out for hours
- Sweating, trembling and shaking
- Rapid heart rate, shallow breathing
- Gasping, feeling like being choked
- Hiding in basement, bathroom, closet
- Constantly watching out for signs of storm, gluing oneself to the TV set particularly to the weather channel
- Crying or seeking constant assurance during a storm
- Closing windows, doors and curtains and trying to block out sounds of the storm.
- Nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal distress
- Freezing, refusing to move from the place due to the fear of thunder/lightning striking him.
- Having thoughts of death
Astraphobia can sometimes lead to Agoraphobia where the individual refuses to leave his home on account of his fear of lightning and thunder.
Diagnosis and treatment for fear of thunder/lightning phobia
Diagnosing Astraphobia requires psychiatric evaluation along with written tests. These tests generally require the sufferer to write down answers to a series of questions related to his/her fears which help the expert reach a conclusion about the phobia.
A combination of medications and psychotherapy can help treat Astraphobia. However, many a phobic has seen good results with self help techniques. These include deep breathing, positive visualizations, meditation and gradual exposure to thunder/lightning etc.
Having a pet or a friend along at the time of thunderstorms is also known to help individuals cope with anxiety experienced during the thunderstorms. Most Astraphobics also feel safer in larger buildings such as schools, libraries etc rather than in their own homes.
In case of Astraphobia in young children, it is important that parents soothe their child’s fear by remaining calm themselves. Reassurance and distraction in the form of stories, jokes or music etc can also help calm a child and ease its fear of lightning or thunder. That being said, if the fear has not eased after several months, parents must seek immediate treatment to prevent it from developing into a full blown phobia of thunderstorms.
Psychotherapy in the form of desensitization, cognitive behavior therapy and virtual reality simulations etc are a few effective techniques that are proven beneficial in treating Astraphobia.