What Is Fear of Thunderstorms (Astraphobia)?

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Astraphobia is an intense, irrational fear of thunderstorms. It may also include other extremely loud noises in nature. Astraphobia can be hard to live with, but phobias can be successfully treated.

This article will teach you about astraphobia, how to recognize it, and how it’s caused, diagnosed, and treated.

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Other names for astraphobia are:

  • Astrapophobia
  • Brontophobia
  • Keraunophobia
  • Tonitrophobia


Definition of Astraphobia

Astraphobia is classified as a “specific phobia," or an intense fear of something that poses little or no danger.

Depending on the phobia's severity, just a picture of lightning or thought of a thunderstorm may trigger anxiety. With milder symptoms, you may be calm inside but unable to go outside during a storm.

The term "astraphobia" comes from the Greek words "astrape," which means lightning, and "phobia," which means fear. 

Five Types of Specific Phobia

  • Animal type: Snakes, spiders, dogs, etc.
  • Natural environment type: Heights, water, lightning, thunder
  • Blood-injection-injury type: Seeing blood, being vaccinated, watching medical procedures
  • Situational type: Airplanes, enclosed places (claustrophobia), elevators
  • Other: Fear of sickness, fear of clowns, others not covered above


Symptoms of Astraphobia

A phobia goes beyond simple fear. It’s normal for you to feel fear if you’re in danger, but phobias cause reactions even when you don't face a threat.

Say you’re on a roller coaster and see lightning in the distance. It’s rational to be afraid. You’re high up on a metal structure. That makes you extra likely to be struck.

If you have astraphobia, on the other hand, you may be too fearful to leave the house if the weather forecast predicts thunderstorms. You may have a panic attack at a distant rumble of thunder or even the first few drops of rain.

Symptoms of astraphobia include:

  • A sense of impending doom
  • A strong desire to escape
  • A fast heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Emotional stress or anxiety attacks
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath or feeling of suffocation
  • Tingling sensations
  • Trembling

You might go to great lengths to avoid thunder and lightning. The extent of your avoidance depends on how severe the phobia is.

The weather forecast may dictate whether you can leave the house. It may be impossible for you to enjoy the outdoors due to fear that a storm will strike. You may not be able to watch a video of thunderstorms without symptoms kicking in.

Recap

Astraphobia is an irrational fear of thunderstorms. It's a type of specific phobia. Phobias involve fear that’s out of proportion to the actual threat. It can cause anxiety attacks and symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, trembling, and nausea. It’s common for phobias to limit your activities.

Diagnosis

Astraphobia and other specific phobias are diagnosed based on your symptoms. Criteria are laid out in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):

  • A persistent, excessive, or unreasonable fear occurs when thunderstorms are present or anticipated.
  • Exposure to thunderstorms consistently triggers an immediate anxiety response.
  • You know the fear is excessive or out of proportion to the threat.
  • You avoid thunderstorms or have intense anxiety or distress when one is occurring.
  • Avoidance behaviors, anticipation of anxiety, or distress over thunderstorms significantly interfere with your day-to-day life, or you have marked distress about the phobia.
  • Your fear is persistent, meaning it’s been triggerable for at least six months.
  • Your fear can’t be explained by another mental disorder. Other possible diagnoses are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia, and panic disorder.

If you suspect a phobia, talk to your healthcare provider. If they’re not comfortable diagnosing a phobia, they may send you to a mental health specialist.

Causes of Astraphobia

So far, experts can’t say exactly what causes phobias. Factors believed to contribute to phobia development are: 

  • Past trauma: Negative experiences can affect you for a long time. If you had a frightening storm experience as a child, it may contribute to your phobia.
  • Learned responses: Seeing other people react with fear to thunder and lightning may make you think they’re more dangerous than they really are.
  • Genetics: Phobias can run in families. Research suggests genes may increase your risk of developing phobias.
  • Long-term stress: Chronic stress lowers your ability to cope in difficult situations. That can lead to an excessive fear response and help lead to a phobia.
  • Brain chemistry: When the chemicals (neurotransmitters) serotonin and dopamine are out of balance, they can cause anxiety and contribute to phobias.

Treatment

If your phobia doesn’t impact your life, it may not need to be treated.

But if it limits your activities or causes distress, know that treatments are available. Most phobias can be treated or even cured.

Treatments for specific phobias include:

  • Psychotherapy: Traditional talk therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A talk therapy focused on changing harmful or negative thinking and behaviors
  • Exposure therapy: Gradual exposure to thunderstorms that improves your ability to tolerate them, including with pictures, videos, and audio recordings
  • Technology-assisted therapy: Exposure therapy performed with virtual reality or augmented reality, which may help simulate a thunderstorm in a controlled environment
  • Medications: Drugs that may include antidepressants, anxiety medications, or beta-blockers

Relaxation and deep breathing exercises may help lower your anxiety levels.

Summary

Astraphobia, or fear of thunderstorms, is classified as a specific phobia. Your phobia may limit your activities by causing anxiety-related symptoms.

Phobias are diagnosed based on DSM-5 criteria. They're thought to develop due to a combination of trauma, stress, genetics, brain chemistry, and learned responses.

Treatment typically involves a form of psychotherapy, especially exposure therapy. Drugs may be used in some cases.

A Word From Verywell

Don’t feel like you’re stuck living with your phobia. With proper treatment, you may be able to work past it.

If your fear of thunderstorms detracts from your well-being, bring it up with your healthcare provider. They can help you get the treatment you need to shed the phobia’s control over your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of phobias aren't classified as a specific phobia?

    Phobias that aren't considered specific are called complex phobias. They deal with circumstances or situations. These include:

    • Agoraphobia (fear of open or crowded spaces or places outside your home)
    • Social phobia (fear of social situations)

    The impact of complex phobias tends to be bigger than that of specific phobias.

  • What's the most common phobia?

    In the United States, experts believe the most common phobia is social phobia, or social anxiety disorder. Just more than 12% of adults will have social phobia at some point in their lives. That's about the same number of people who have a specific phobia, which is an umbrella term for astraphobia (fear of thunderstorms), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), and claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces).

  • Can phobias be cured?

    Yes. With the right form(s) of treatment, many phobias can be cured. This can be achieved with exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and possibly medications.

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