It’s natural to be startled or even a little fearful when a bright bolt of lighting flashes in the sky, hits the ground and is followed by a loud clap of rumbling, roaring thunder. However, if that fear becomes extreme and irrational, it could be a specific phobia called brontophobia, derived from the Greek words bronte (thunder) and phobos (fear). It is also known as astraphobia, fear of lightning, and can occur in children, adults and animals.
Types of phobias
A phobia is an overwhelming fear of something that poses little or no danger. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders by the National Institute of Mental Health. There are three types of phobias: Social phobias, specific phobias and agoraphobia. Specific phobias focus on and are triggered by such things as animals, insects, heights, storms, water, flying, and elevators.
Brontophobia and astraphobia are specific phobias – the specific panic triggers are lightning and thunder. These phobias are listed in the top 10 fears reported by adults.
Parents need not be alarmed by their children’s fear of thunder unless it persists for more than six months, then it is considered a fully-developed phobia. Most individuals will recognize brontophobia is a problem if it disrupts daily routines and places a strain on relationships. Since there is no diagnostic laboratory test for phobias, the diagnosis is based on the patient’s account of their experiences.
For individuals who want a professional diagnosis, the American Psychiatric Association (AMA) provides criteria for the diagnoses of specific phobias. Your primary care physician may make the diagnoses or refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse or even a clinical social worker.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) provides a self-assessment for specific phobias, listed here:
• The person experiences excessive or irrational fear of a specific object or situation.
• Exposure to the object or situation causes an immediate anxiety response or a panic attack.
• The person knows that the fear is excessive and irrational.
• The object or situation is endured with distress or avoided.
• Avoidance, anticipatory anxiety, or distress during exposure to the feared object or situation interferes with the person’s ability to function in normal daily activities. The person may have distress about having the phobia.
People who suffer from brontophobia will do whatever they can to avoid lightning and thunder because they experience terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety. They may demonstrate their fear by covering their ears, running to hide under a bed or in a closet or any place they feel they can escape the sight of the lightning and the sound of the thunder. This is particularly true for children and animals. Children may cry uncontrollably, and animals may whine and moan to signal they are in great distress.
The person may be aware that they are overreacting, put they are powerless to stop the fear once the trigger of thunder and lightning occurs.
Brontophobics may experience trembling, sweating, rapid heartbeat and feelings of dread. They may change their home environment by adding dark curtains to the windows and may feel compelled to watch the skies for signs of a storm or watch weather forecasts. In extreme cases, brotophobics will not leave their home unless the weather forecast is storm free and may even lead to agoraphobia (fear of leaving home).
Researchers believe that a combination of factors including heredity, genetics, brain chemistry and life-experiences contribute to phobias. The challenge for individuals is to find the right treatment for their particular needs. If an individual suffers from depression, substance abuse and/or more than one anxiety disorder, treatment will be more complicated and take longer than for an individual addressing brontophobia on its own.
There is a wide variety of treatment options to chose from, including using self-help publications or choosing a therapist to lead you through the treatment process.
Here are examples of the therapeutic approaches that have proved effective in treating specific phobias.
Therapy Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. This type of therapy requires the patient’s involvement and benefits can be seen in 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the individual.
One form of CBT, called exposure therapy, gradually exposes the patient to the feared situation (lightning and thunder) in order to desensitize the patient over time.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) teaches skills to cope with and accept unwanted thoughts, feelings, and sensations and to commit to behavior changes to support these insights.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) integrates CBT with concepts from Eastern meditation. DBT involves individual and group therapy to learn skills for tolerating distress and managing emotions.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment that mimics what happens during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) and seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. As a result it helps the patient see disturbing situations with less stress. Medication
Your health care professional may recommend medication for the anxiety that accompanies your phobia. Medicine does not cure the phobia, but may reduce distress to aid in treating the phobia.
Complementary & Alternative Treatment
There are also treatments considered outside the conventional medicine practiced in the United States. These complementary and alternative practices are currently offered as treatment for anxiety disorders: Dietary supplements, herbal products, acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, art, music, or dance therapy, biofield therapies or bioelectromagnetic-based therapies
Brontophobia is as specific phobia that can be treated effectively. There is a great deal of information and support for individuals who suffer from this common anxiety disorder. The key is to be willing to recognize when the fear of weather conditions has become an issue and to take action to overcome the fear.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
American Psychiatric Association (AMA) http://www.psych.org
Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/screenings/screening-specific-phobias