What is astraphobia?
Astraphobia is extreme fear of thunder and lightning. It can affect people of all ages, though it may be more common in children than adults. It’s also seen in animals.
Many children who have this fear will eventually outgrow it, but others will continue to experience the phobia into adulthood. Astraphobia can also manifest in adults who didn’t have it as children.
Being caught in a thunderstorm or preparing for extreme weather conditions can create reasonable levels of anxiety or fear. In people with astraphobia, thunderstorms cause an extreme reaction that can be debilitating. For people with this phobia, these feelings may be overwhelming and feel insurmountable.
Astraphobia is also called:
Astraphobia is a treatable anxiety disorder. Like many other phobias, it’s not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a specific psychiatric diagnosis.
In people without this phobia, news of an impending storm may lead you to cancel or relocate outdoor plans. Or if you find yourself in a lightning storm, you may seek shelter or move away from tall trees. Even though the chances of getting hit by lightning are slim, these actions represent an appropriate response to a potentially dangerous situation.
A person with astraphobia will have a reaction that goes beyond these seemingly appropriate acts. They may have feelings of panic, both before and during a storm. These feelings can escalate into a full-blown panic attack, and include symptoms such as:
- all-over body shaking
- chest pain
- heart palpitations
- trouble breathing
Other symptoms of astraphobia may include:
- sweaty palms
- racing pulse
- obsessive desire to monitor the storm
- the need to hide away from the storm, such as in a closet, bathroom, or under the bed
- clinging to others for protection
- uncontrollable crying, particularly in children
The person may also understand that these feelings are overblown and irrational without the ability to curtail them.
These symptoms can be triggered by a weather report, conversation, or sudden sound, such as a clap of thunder. Sights and sounds that are similar to thunder and lightning may also trigger symptoms.
Some people may be at increased risk for this phobia. Simply being a child can be a risk factor. Storms can be especially scary for kids, but most grow out of these feelings as they age.
Some children with autism and sensory processing disorders, such as auditory processing disorder, may have a harder time controlling their emotions during a storm because they have heightened sensitivity to sound.
In “Dancing in the Rain: Stories of Exceptional Progress by Parents of Children with Special Needs,” author Annabel Stehli compares the sound of raindrops to bullets as an example of how children with sensory integration disorder experience rain. Anxiety is also common among kids with autism. This may exacerbate discomfort, both before or during a storm.
Anxiety disorders often run in families, and sometimes have a genetic link. Individuals with a family history of anxiety, depression, or phobias may be at greater risk for astraphobia.
Experiencing weather-related trauma can also be a risk factor. For example, someone who has had a traumatic or negative experience caused by severe weather may acquire a phobia to storms.
If your phobia lasts longer than six months or is interfering with daily life, seeking help from a doctor or therapist can help. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based upon verbal accounts of your reactions and feelings to storms as well as an examination to rule out a medical basis for the symptoms.
There’s no specific, diagnostic laboratory test for astraphobia. The American Psychiatric Association’s new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders provides criteria for specific phobias, which can be used to help make a diagnosis.
Specific phobias are an anxiety disorder, earmarked by irrational fear. Your doctor will compare your symptoms to the criteria list to determine if what you have is a phobia.
There are several treatments for phobias which may be effective for you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of psychotherapy (talk therapy). It’s a short-term approach. It may be done one on one with a therapist or in a group setting. CBT focuses deeply on one specific issue and is goal-oriented. It’s designed to alter negative or erroneous thinking patterns and replace them with more rational ways of thinking.
Exposure therapy is a type of CBT therapy. It provides opportunities for people with phobias to face their fears by slowly being exposed to the thing that frightens them over time. For example, you’ll experience storms or storm-related triggers while supervised or in a controlled setting.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
This problem-solving approach couples CBT with meditation and other stress-reducing techniques. It’s designed to help people process and regulate their emotions while reducing anxiety.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT strives to increase mindfulness, coping skills, and acceptance of self and situations.
Your doctor may also recommend anxiety medications in addition to therapy. These medications may help reduce the stress you feel before or during storms. Medication isn’t a cure for phobia.
Stress management techniques
Stress management techniques, such as meditation, may be effective at eliminating or reducing phobia-related anxiety. These techniques can help you manage your phobia in the long term.
If your fear of storms lasts for six months or longer, or interferes with daily living, it may be classified as a phobia. Astraphobia can be overcome with treatment and support.