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Astraphobia

    Astraphobia site

    Astraphobia is an irrational fear of thunder and lightning. It can cause intense anxiety and fear, seriously affecting different aspects of a person’s life. It is also known as tonitrophobia.

    What Is Astraphobia?

    Astraphobia is an unwanted and aberrant fear of thunder, lightning, and thunderstorms. It is a specific phobia that can be observed in both humans and animals. It can lead to intense feelings of anxiety and panic attacks. This disorder can affect individuals of all ages and is experienced more by children than adults.

    Most children tend to overcome it as they grow older. However, some may experience it throughout their adult lives as well. Moreover, this specific phobia can also affect adult individuals who haven’t experienced it in their childhood.

    The term “astraphobia” is composed of the Greek words “astrape” meaning lightning and “phobos” meaning fear. It is also known as:

    • Tonitrophobia
    • Brontophobia
    • Keraunophobia
    • Ceraunophobia

    It is a treatable condition like most other specific phobias. However, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not officially recognize it as a psychiatric diagnosis.

    Read More About Phobia Here

    Understanding Astraphobia

    Astraphobia is generally experienced more by people who live or work in regions with frequent and severe stormy weather. Preparing for thunderstorms or getting caught up in extreme weather conditions can make anyone feel reasonably anxious or afraid.

    However, people with this disorder tend to have an intense and excessive phobic reaction to lightning and thunder. Individuals suffering from this specific phobia feel overwhelmed, devastated, and overpowered. Moreover, it can also affect their ability to function in daily life as well.

    To manage their anxiety and fear, sufferers may often take some painstakingly severe measures to avoid not just extreme weather conditions, but also when it’s mildly cloudy. Even by anticipating bad weather, they may avoid going out and prefer to stay indoors.

    This may affect different aspects of their life like education, work, relationships, and other commitments. Although such measures can provide temporary relief from their crippling anxiety, in the long run, these can make the condition worse.

    However, as specific phobias (like astraphobia) have originated due to evolution, some experts consider that fear of thunder and lightning is not exactly a phobia but an evolutionary tool designed to ensure our survival.

    Irrespective of the controversy surrounding its cause, numerous people across the world are affected by this condition and experience intense fear and anxiety during bad weather. In fact, according to a 2017 study 1, astraphobia is the third most prevalent specific phobia among Americans.

    Astraphobia In Children

    The fear of thunder is very common in childhood. Children with autism spectrum disorder are highly sensory-sensitive and this may contribute to the development of astraphobia. Their phobia may lead to other signs of extreme anxiety including:

    • Pacing
    • Repetitive speech
    • Yelling
    • Crying
    • Clinging
    • Aggression
    • Self-injury

    Parents may utilize the following effective strategies to reassure their children and make them calm during extreme weather conditions:

    • Use noise-canceling headphones to distract children from the sound of thunderstorms and soothe them
    • Offer them their favorite toys or things to hold on to as children often find comfort and reassurance in toys when anxious
    • By engaging children in some games that parents can play along with them. This will help to distract them from the bad weather

    Astraphobia In Adults

    Adults suffering from astraphobia usually display the following behavioral signs:

    • Compulsively checking weather apps multiple times a day
    • Canceling obligations from the fear of an approaching thunderstorm
    • Experiencing panic attacks during thunderstorms
    • Displaying violent or disturbing behavior resulting from their fear of thunder and lightning

    Signs And Symptoms Of Astraphobia

    Signs Of Astraphobia
    Astraphobia

    People with this specific phobia often experience several challenges while coping with their thoughts and emotions during thunderstorms. Not only do they experience severe anxiety and fear, but they can also experience full-blown panic attacks—depending on the intensity of the condition and the individual.

    In extreme cases, hospitalization may also be required. A noticeable obsession with weather forecasts is perhaps the most common of astraphobia symptoms. Moreover, they may feel incapable of going outside and conducting normal regular activities without checking the weather reports first.

    Here are some of the common astraphobia symptoms:

    1. Physical symptoms

    Sufferers may experience overwhelming feelings of anxiety and panic attacks that cause real physical symptoms, such as:

    • Sweating
    • Trembling
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
    • Nausea
    • Hyperventilation
    • Headaches and dizziness
    • A rise in blood pressure
    • Clinging to others for protection
    • Uncontrollable crying, particularly in children

    2. Psychological symptoms

    When exposed to a thunderstorm, individuals suffering from astraphobia may also experience these emotional and mental signs and symptoms:

    • Fear of losing control
    • Fear of fainting
    • Anxiety and fear when thinking of or hearing thunder
    • Anger
    • Irritability
    • Mood swings
    • Fear of dying
    • Panic attacks

    Read More About Coping With Generalized Anxiety Disorder Here

    What Are The Causes Of Astraphobia?

    There is no specific reason for the development of astraphobia. However, genetics and environmental causes 2 are attributed to the development of astraphobia.

    If a family member has experienced this phobia or has a history of mental disorders—like anxiety, depression, or phobias—then it is likely that another family member or an offspring may develop this phobia.

    When someone has a genetic predisposition to develop anxiety disorders like astraphobia, then a traumatic experience like surviving a cyclone or a hurricane may trigger the condition into a serious phobia.

    Moreover, if this traumatic event occurs during their childhood, then any storm, lightning, thunder, or even a mildly cloudy sky can trigger intense emotions in their adulthood.

    Apart from this, evolution is also a contributing factor in the development of this phobia, as mentioned earlier. Being afraid of loud noises ensured that our ancestors survived threats and dangers. So this particular phobia (like phonophobia 3 or fear of loud noises and others) may have served as a survival mechanism.

    Risk factors for astraphobia

    Research 4 further attributes certain risk factors to the development of astraphobia, including:

    • Autism in children and adults
    • Sensory integration disorder
    • A history of weather-related trauma
    • A family history of anxiety
    • A family history of depression or phobias

    How Is Astraphobia Diagnosed?

    Currently, there is no particular diagnosis or test for this specific phobia as it is not recognized by the APA. However, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) 5 offers certain criteria for specific phobias which can be referred to while diagnosing astraphobia.

    Generally, if the fear of thunder lasts longer than 6 months and is affecting the patient’s normal daily functioning and social life, he/she needs to seek help from a mental health professional (like a psychiatrist or a psychologist).

    The doctor may interview the patient and analyze the symptoms to understand how his/her thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors are influenced by the phobia. The doctor may also conduct a few tests to ensure that the symptoms are not due to other medical conditions or mental disorders.

    Read More About DSM 5 Here

    How To Treat Astraphobia?

    No specific treatment method has been developed to cure astraphobia. However, like any other phobia, a combination of psychotherapy and medication can help the patient relieve himself of its symptoms and overcome the disorder.

    Mentioned below are some commonly used astraphobia treatment methods:

    1. Therapy

    Several therapy techniques 6 are available for the treatment of thunder and lightning phobias. These include:

    A. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

    CBT 7 is perhaps the most well-known form of talk therapy or psychotherapy. Due to its short-term, goal-oriented approach, CBT can be highly effective for phobia patients. Moreover, as the therapist directly interacts with the sufferer, it can help to replace their negative behavior and thought patterns with more positive and logical thinking.

    Read More About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Here

    B. Exposure therapy

    A form of CBT, exposure therapy 8 is a more effective and targeted approach to coping with phobias. It requires the therapist to gradually expose the patient to the feared object or situation in a controlled setting over a period of time.

    By getting exposed to their fears repeatedly and slowly, the patients become desensitized to the triggers and are better able to manage their own thoughts and emotions.

    For astraphobia, the patient may be asked to listen to audio recordings of thunder under the observation of their therapist. As the process progresses and the patient gradually becomes desensitized, the therapist may increase the intensity and volume of the audio recordings to further desensitize him/her.

    C. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

    ACT is a psychological intervention that encourages patients to accept their own emotions and thoughts instead of avoiding or rejecting them or feeling guilty. By using acceptance along with certain mindfulness strategies, it helps to build psychological flexibility through commitment and behavior change. It is a clinically effective treatment method that helps patients accept the situation they are in and accept themselves.

    D. Virtual reality treatment (VRT)

    With the help of VRT 9, the patient can be immersed in a safe virtual environment to expose himself/herself to thunderstorms and extreme weather conditions.

    By repeatedly being exposed to his/her feared situation using virtual reality, the patient can be desensitized using a more immersive and realistic experience with a head-mounted display (HMD). This can lead to more effective outcomes. Moreover, it also enables the patient to develop various self-help strategies for coping with astraphobia.

    2. Medications

    Although there are no specific medications for the treatment of this disorder, a mental health professional may prescribe certain medications to relieve the symptoms of severe astraphobia. Anti-anxiety medication 10 (like Xanax and Valium) may be prescribed to prevent and manage panic attacks. Moreover, antidepressants can also be prescribed to cope with depression and other anxiety symptoms related to astraphobia.

    It is always important for sufferers to seek professional help as it can enable them to understand how their disorder is actually affecting them and what they can do to manage it.

    How To Overcome Astraphobia?

    Coping With Astraphobia
    Astraphobia

    Consider the following self-help tips for coping with astraphobia:

    1. Self-educate to understand the right facts about astraphobia and how to address it
    2. Stop behaviors that trigger the disorder, such as constantly checking weather apps multiple times a day
    3. Communicate with your loved ones about your phobia. For instance, try talking to them over the phone or in person during a thunderstorm
    4. During a storm, calm yourself by counting backward or reading a book or listening to music with noise-canceling headphones
    5. Consider using mental health apps and meditation apps during thunderstorms
    6. Avail things that you generally find comforting (like wrapping yourself in a blanket, sleeping, watching television, etc.) during thunderstorms
    7. If needed, avail therapy and medication

    Takeaway 

    A combination of both medication and therapy can help significantly improve the condition in the long run. Consulting a doctor can not only help you overcome the symptoms but also allow you to build a healthier life that is free from anxiety and fear. Moreover, it can also enable you to live with hope, strengthen your personal relationships, and build your social life.

    Astraphobia At A Glance 

    1. Astraphobia is an irrational fear of thunder and lightning.
    2. It is an unwanted and aberrant fear of thunderstorms.
    3. It is generally experienced by people who live or work in regions with frequent and severe stormy weather.
    4. Children, especially those with autism, are highly sensory-sensitive and this may contribute to the development of astraphobia.
    5. There is no specific treatment for astraphobia.
    6. Several therapies and medications are used to address astraphobia in the long run.
    👇 References:
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    3. Asha’ari, Z. A., Mat Zain, N., & Razali, A. (2010). Phonophobia and hyperacusis: practical points from a case report. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS, 17(1), 49–51. []
    4. Garcia R. (2017). Neurobiology of fear and specific phobias. Learning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.), 24(9), 462–471. https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.044115.116 []
    5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2016 Jun. Table 3.11, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Specific Phobia Comparison. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t11/ []
    6. Ost L. G. (1978). Behavioral treatment of thunder and lightning phobias. Behaviour research and therapy16(3), 197–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(78)90067-0 []
    7. Chand, S. P., Kuckel, D. P., & Huecker, M. R. (2022). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470241/ []
    8. Sars, D., & van Minnen, A. (2015). On the use of exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders: a survey among cognitive behavioural therapists in the Netherlands. BMC psychology, 3(1), 26. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-015-0083-2 []
    9. Boeldt, D., McMahon, E., McFaul, M., & Greenleaf, W. (2019). Using Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to Enhance Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Identifying Areas of Clinical Adoption and Potential Obstacles. Frontiers in psychiatry, 10, 773. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00773 []
    10. Farach, F. J., Pruitt, L. D., Jun, J. J., Jerud, A. B., Zoellner, L. A., & Roy-Byrne, P. P. (2012). Pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorders: current treatments and future directions. Journal of anxiety disorders, 26(8), 833–843. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.07.009 []