When Mother Nature shows us her fury and power, the results can be equally spectacular and devastating. Thunder and lightning are loved by some, tolerated by others and feared by a considerable group. Astraphobia is the extreme fear and dread of storms.
Derived from the Greek word Astrape, which means lightning, it’s a fairly common phobia, that is often seen in children and pets more than adults. While many children do ‘grow out of it’, the phobia can last for life, and have a detrimental effect on the sufferer. If left untreated, Astraphobia can lead to a plethora of other phobias and mental conditions.
CAUSES OF ASTRAPHOBIA
Evolutionary speaking, humans are likely to have developed a fear of storms in order to survive. When the environment was more hostile than today, a bad storm could easily wipe out an ill-prepared tribe. By fearing the sound of thunder, ancient humans were able to increase their chances of survival.
This in-built fear is still active in most people, and the first times a child experiences thunder or lightning, it’s likely to be triggered. Exposure to the stimuli, alongside a calm and confident example, gradually reduces this fear. However, if a traumatic experience involving a storm occurs, the fear can become more intense.
Witnessing destruction during a storm, having a near-death experience or seeing someone else hurt, are just some potential scenarios. While traumatic experiences leading to Astraphobia are more common in childhood, they can occur at any age.
Research suggests that many Astraphobics have experienced electrocution during a storm, which has led directly to their extreme fear. Astraphobia can also run in the family, with a child learning to fear storms from their parents or siblings.
Astraphobia can be linked with other phobias such as the fear of loud noises. Just like Ligyrophobia, physical conditions such as hypersensitive hearing may be at the root of an individual’s fear. Autism, and the commonly associated sensitive hearing, can also result in Astraphobia.
SYMPTOMS OF ASTRAPHOBIA
Astraphobia brings on intense anxiety in sufferers when experiencing a storm.
- Nausea and even vomiting
- Sweating or clammy hands
- Increased heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Feeling frozen to the spot
- A desire to escape to safety
Sufferers will frequently seek additional shelter. They may hide under the bed, in the basement, in a closet or anywhere else they feel safe. Wearing headphones, humming loudly and covering ears, or playing loud music are common reactions to thunder, in the hope that the sound can be drowned out.
Often, sufferers feel their fear far more acutely if they are alone. Being with other people helps, with many reporting they prefer to be in a busy environment during a storm, rather than at home. In most cases of adult Astraphobia, the sufferer is well aware that their reaction is excessive, but this is seldom a comfort.
An obsessive monitoring of weather reports or storm prediction websites is also characteristic of Astraphobia. Sufferers feel the need to be one step ahead of the storm, and dread the idea that they’ll be taken by surprise. In some cases, Astraphobics will not leave the house if a storm is predicted. In extreme cases, this can lead to Agoraphobia.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is perhaps the most common treatment for Astraphobia. Utilizing a mix of Talk Therapy and Exposure Therapy is said to yield long lasting results. The idea is to gradually face your fear in a controlled environment, armed with numerous relaxation techniques. By avoiding a full-blown panic attack during exposure, you can begin to rationalize your fear, and have control over it.
Other methods of Psychotherapy (talk therapy), aim to change the way you think about storms, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) works in the same way, and numerous exercises can be practiced at home. Hypnotherapy can also be used to subliminally change the way your brain copes with thunder and lightning.
Self-help techniques can be invaluable, and meditation, relaxation, positive affirmation and gradual exposure to storms with trusted friends or family, can work wonders.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Living with any fear will inevitably begin to have an impact on your life. The stress that there may be a storm around the corner can lead to numerous other issues, such as depression, anger and embarrassment. With your fear of thunder and lightning overcome however, you can move on and live a more relaxed life.
You will no longer have to avoid certain occasions due to a storm, or fear embarrassing yourself in front of other people if a storm strikes. Instead, you can learn to discover the beauty of Mother Nature’s rage.