A phobia of thunder and lighting is a real condition — and a manageable one.
Do you start to feel nervous or jittery when you know a storm is brewing? Perhaps noticing looming clouds or seeing an upcoming weather report triggers anxiety. Or maybe it happens as soon as you see a lightning flash or hear a thunderclap.
You may feel silly or embarrassed about it — but the tension and anxiety you’re experiencing are real. You’re not alone, and you’re not “overreacting” or imagining these feelings.
In fact, you may have a condition called astraphobia. This very real phobia involves a fear of storms, thunder, and lightning.
Avoiding severe weather isn’t always possible and sometimes requires safety planning. But you can take steps to manage your phobia when a storm happens.
Astraphobia is a specific phobia involving the fear of storms, thunder, and lighting. It may actually be one of the most common specific phobias.
While astraphobia most often affects children, it can last into adulthood. For many people, astraphobia has roots in their family history or traumatic experiences related to weather, such as surviving a natural disaster.
If you have astraphobia, you may feel extreme anxiety when you know a storm is coming, which can lead to panic attacks in some people. You may also watch and read weather reports excessively, which can increase anxiety.
Various treatment options for astraphobia are available. They can include different types of therapy or medications to alleviate anxiety symptoms and help improve your overall quality of life.
What is a specific phobia?
A phobia is defined as an intense fear of something that’s unlikely to cause you or others harm, such as certain objects or situations.
Numerous phobias exist. Some of the more common ones often include fears related to:
- specific animals
- situations like flying or driving
- medical issues related to blood or injuries
If you have a specific phobia, you may go to great lengths to avoid whatever you fear, which can add additional stress and anxiety. Over time, phobias can cause significant anxiety for many individuals, especially if avoiding the cause of those fears is difficult, like with astraphobia.
However, most phobias are manageable. And while you might be able to sometimes calm yourself, it can help to seek professional help from a doctor or therapist if your fears come along with symptoms of anxiety.
A mental health professional can help you identify potential causes, triggers, and ways to manage your phobia.
Astraphobia typically has symptoms that are quite similar to those of anxiety and panic attacks, such as:
- overwhelming fear
- anxiety and worry
- tremors or shaking
- shortness of breath
- heart racing or palpitations
- nausea or vomiting
- chest pain
For an accurate diagnosis, it’s important to speak with a doctor or mental health professional about your symptoms. They can help pinpoint triggers (what brings these symptoms on), as well as guide you in managing them.
Living through a traumatic weather-related event, such as surviving a natural disaster, is a common cause and risk factor for developing astraphobia. Even if this event happened many years ago, you may still develop this phobia as a result.
Family history and intergenerational trauma may also be a cause or risk factor for astraphobia, such as a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other relative experiencing this phobia.
It’s also possible for some people to develop astraphobia for no apparent reason.
Doctors and mental health professionals typically diagnose astraphobia by conducting a screening. They may ask you a series of questions about your symptoms and experiences to find out certain information, such as if you:
- have had symptoms for more than 6 months
- tend to avoid thunder and lighting, including in movies or media
- feel extreme fear, dread, or panic when you know a storm is coming soon
- think your symptoms interfere with your quality of life, even if you know you’re safe from any type of harm
Like other specific phobias, astraphobia is manageable. Treatment options for astraphobia often include a combination of:
- specific coping strategies
- prescribed medication, in some cases
Working with a doctor or therapist is often the best course of action for treating specific phobias like astraphobia. You might have to try multiple strategies before finding what is most effective for your symptoms, which can take time and effort.
Psychotherapy is a common first-line treatment for specific phobias, including astraphobia.
Some effective forms of therapy used for astraphobia include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Commonly referred to as talk therapy, CBT can be performed either one-on-one with a therapist or in a group support setting. The goal of talk therapy is to help you replace negative or unproductive thoughts with more helpful ones.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT combines talk therapy with stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation and mindfulness, to help you reduce anxiety symptoms while learning to process your emotions.
- Exposure therapy. The goal of exposure therapy is to help you slowly become more comfortable with whatever is causing your phobia. In this case, it might involve watching videos or listening to recordings of thunderstorms with your therapist, while they guide you in practicing calming techniques.
Currently, no medications specifically treat phobias.
However, healthcare professionals may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to people living with intense phobias. Some anti-anxiety medications can help prevent panic attacks and manage anxiety symptoms when a storm is anticipated.
Only a doctor can prescribe medications. It’s important to follow their guidance in taking prescriptions only as directed.
Stress management techniques
In addition to other treatment options, your therapist may also recommend learning stress-management strategies to help reduce symptoms. These may include:
Astraphobia is a specific fear of storms, thunder, or lightning that might cause some people to experience intense fear, worry, or even panic attacks.
This is a real condition, and it may be one of the most common phobias people experience.
While it’s more common for kids to develop astraphobia, it can last into adulthood for some people. Astraphobia is frequently associated with family patterns and intergenerational trauma, as well as living through a traumatic experience yourself, such as surviving a natural disaster.
Like other phobias, astraphobia is a manageable condition. If you’re experiencing symptoms, getting in touch with a doctor or therapist is often the best first step in diagnosis and treatment.
A doctor or therapist can work with you to find an effective treatment plan to reduce your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. Treatment for specific phobias like astraphobia often includes a combination of:
- coping strategies
- anti-anxiety medications, in some cases
If you’re ready to get help but don’t know where to begin, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health care.
Even if overcoming your fear of thunder and lightning seems impossible now, there is hope when it comes to managing your symptoms and feeling better in the long term.