Astraphobia is a fear of thunder and lightning. People develop this phobia for a variety of reasons, including experiencing trauma during a storm or being exposed to frightening stories about thunderstorms at a young age. This phobia can also be observed in animals, with dogs in particular tending to develop intense fear of storms. As long as a storm lasts, a person with astraphobia can feel agitated and upset and may behave abnormally.
Symptoms of astraphobia can include a need to hide from the storm by going into a room where it cannot be seen, burying under the blankets of a bed, or going into a closet. The patient can also experience symptoms like elevated heart rate, emotional distress, heavy sweating, and trembling during storms. Patients are often very agitated and may overreact to touch or attempts to communicate. Some people are also ashamed of their fear, and this can cause complex emotions to develop during storms and when the weather forecast calls for thunder and lightning.
This phobia is treatable. Attending therapy with a mental health professional can help people address the roots of the fear and confront it. The therapist can work with patients, using tools like systematic desensitization, where the patient is exposed over time to thunder and lightning, perhaps first in vivid oral descriptions and eventually in a real storm. By gradually exposing the patient and showing the patient how nothing harmful happens, the therapist can help patients manage their fear.
Medications intended to address panic and anxiety can be useful in the treatment of astraphobia. Sometimes, patients naturally grow out of the phobia on their own when they are not pressured and they have a chance to see that nothing bad happens during storms and other inclement weather. Other patients may benefit from meditation, breathing exercises, and other alternative approaches to stress and fear to manage panic attacks associated with storms.
Treating astraphobia can take time, depending on why the phobia developed and what kinds of treatments work for the patient. A common obstacle in phobia treatment is lack of understanding from friends and family. While a phobia may not seem rational, shaming the patient or pressuring the person to go beyond comfort levels can result in a regression in progress. Setbacks, such as an increase in anxiety about storms, can make treatment more difficult.
For people with animals who are afraid of storms, there can be a risk of injury if animals get frightened in confined spaces. Medications to encourage animals to relax are available for treating astraphobia in animals like dogs and horses.