Astraphobia (Fear of Thunder and Lightning)
What is astraphobia?
Astraphobia is an intense fear of thunder and lightning. The phobia is more common in children, but it can last into adulthood. Astraphobia often also affects animals.
People with astraphobia feel extreme anxiety or debilitating fear when preparing for a thunderstorm. They may watch weather reports obsessively or have panic attacks (rushes of anxiety that cause intense physical symptoms) during a storm. Another name for astraphobia is brontophobia.
Who might get astraphobia?
Children are more likely to have astraphobia. Those with sensory processing disorders or autism spectrum disorder are likelier to fear storms, too.
You are also more likely to have astraphobia if you have:
- Family history of depression, anxiety or phobias.
- Family members with astraphobia.
- Past experience of weather-related trauma, such as living through a major natural disaster.
How common is astraphobia?
Astraphobia is one of the most common specific phobias. Over a 12-month period, about 8% of adults deal with a specific phobia. Specific phobias are around two times more common in women than men.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes astraphobia?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes astraphobia. For some people, a traumatic childhood event during a storm can lead to astraphobia.
You’re also more likely to develop astraphobia if a parent or sibling has the condition. Sometimes, people develop astraphobia for no known reason.
What are the symptoms of astraphobia?
Like other phobias, the main symptom of astraphobia is overwhelming fear. Many people are aware that the fear they feel is not proportional to a storm’s actual threat. But it can be difficult to manage symptoms.
The anxiety you might experience with astraphobia can cause physical symptoms, such as:
Diagnosis and Tests
How is astraphobia diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may ask you questions to determine if you have astraphobia. Sometimes, anxiety symptoms relate to another mental health diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider might ask if you’ve experienced:
- Anxiety lasting six months or longer.
- Avoidance of thunder and lightning, even in movies or pictures.
- Extreme fear or panic when you see lightning or thunder.
- Immediate dread or distress when you know a thunderstorm is in the weather forecast.
- Panic that interferes with your life, even when you know you are safe.
Management and Treatment
How is astraphobia treated?
Astraphobia treatment is often similar to treatment approaches for other phobias. Your healthcare provider might try:
- Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy helps you gradually become more comfortable around whatever causes fear. For example, under the direction of your healthcare provider, you might listen to recordings of thunder or look at pictures of thunderstorms. Eventually, you practice staying calm during a real-life storm. Exposure therapy is highly effective for most people who complete it.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Sometimes called talk therapy, CBT can be done one-on-one or in a support group setting. The goal of CBT is to help you identify unhelpful thoughts and replace them with helpful ones.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): This technique pairs talk therapy with stress reduction tools such as meditation. It may help you reduce anxiety so you can process your emotions better.
- Medication: Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help you manage symptoms and prevent panic attacks when a storm is in the forecast.
- Stress management techniques: You might learn coping strategies that help you lessen anxiety symptoms. For example, you might do aerobic exercise, such as jumping jacks, when you start feeling panicked. Or you might learn breathing techniques that help you calm down. After a storm, it may help to take a short walk outside to reassure yourself that everything is OK.
How can I help a child who has astraphobia?
Weather-related anxiety is common in children. If you have a child who is afraid of thunderstorms, you can help them by:
- Explaining that thunder can’t hurt them.
- Learning more about storms.
- Talking about storms as a natural part of life, bringing rain that nourishes plants and flowers.
- Providing a safe, comforting place for them to go during storms, particularly if they have special sensory needs.
If your child has extreme distress over storms, talking about the storm at home might not be enough to reduce stress. If the anxiety doesn’t lessen, seek help from a mental health professional.
Outlook / Prognosis
Are there long-term effects from astraphobia?
With treatment, many people manage astraphobia symptoms. Without treatment, astraphobia symptoms may interfere with your health or relationships. Untreated astraphobia can increase your risk of:
What else should I ask my doctor?
You might want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the most likely cause of astraphobia?
- Do I have an underlying mental health condition that needs treatment?
- What are the astraphobia treatment options?
- What are my chances of overcoming astraphobia?
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I get over a fear of thunderstorms?
With treatment, you might overcome your fear of thunderstorms. Or you might manage astraphobia symptoms long term. The best way to get over an extreme fear of thunderstorms is to seek help from a medical professional.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Astraphobia is the extreme fear of thunder and lightning. It’s most common in children. Many people outgrow the fear of thunderstorms as they get older. But astraphobia is still among the most common specific phobias. Treatment for astraphobia might include exposure therapy, talk therapy or medication. You might also learn stress reduction techniques to manage anxiety symptoms.
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