What is Astraphobia?
Lightning. It leaves you awestruck yet terrified, it’s golden bolts crashing against the night sky. It’s followed shortly by rolling thunder that reverberates and echoes. It leaves me paralyzed in fear. My heart races and I am unable to sleep through the cacophony that ensues.
If a thunderstorm leaves you quaking under your blanket, you may be suffering from Astraphobia (pronounced [ass-trah-fo-bee-ah]). People who embody this phobia tend to also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (ICD-10 Diagnosis code F41.1). Astraphobia is derived from the Greek word “Astrape” meaning lightning. If you’re like me and overwhelmed by this fear, read on!
- Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year
- According to the National Weather Service, of the 330,000,000 people in the Unite States, only an average of 27 people have died per year from a lightning strike.
- They also state that your odds of being struck are 1 in 1.2 million.
- According to this article by National Geographic, if you hear thunder you are within 10 miles of lightning and should take shelter.
- Lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun.
- Lightning can strike up to 25 miles away from the parent thunderstorm.
Why are People Afraid of Lightning?
I know, I know. You’re afraid of lightning because lightning is dangerous. I get it, it seems like an easy answer. But is there more to it? Read on.
It was June 6th 1999. I was 8 years old.
A huge storm had swept across the midwest. And while my family and I were tucked safely in our beds—visiting my grandparents in Minnesota—our home in Wisconsin was struck by lightning.
It struck our electrical box, snaked through all the wiring in the home, and within an hour our two-story dream home was fully engulfed in flames. It was truly a miracle that our entire family was out-of-state. We were all alive. When all was said and done, all that remained of our home was a clawfoot bathtub swaying on its pipes.
Though not physically present when our home burned down, a deep fear of thunder and lightning has raged in me since that day. I lay awake in fear when faced with troubling weather. My Mom was forced to sing me to sleep when storms passed through. I watch the weather religiously, making sure I am safe and sound at all times.
If you’re like me and have experienced a traumatic situation, it is truly hard to overcome. Perhaps you were struck by lightning, or know someone who passed away due to a strike. Maybe you were like me and lost a home. Whatever the scenario, know that there is hope. You don’t have to be weighed down by your fears.
Fear of the Unknown
Two things to note right off the bat:
- I wish I was able to enjoy storms like the woman in the above photo.
- It’s really really unsafe and the last thing you should be doing. Just had to throw that out there.
Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, this gal is clearly someone who doesn’t suffer from astraphobia. If I were sitting in that window, I would worry that I would get struck by lightning. Not only that, I’d be thinking about slipping and falling off the window-sill. Or spilling that hot coffee on myself trying to shift and not fall.
Even if we don’t have a specific reason to be afraid of lightning or thunderstorms, just knowing it could happen to you (though the chances are slim) can be terrifying. Storms are a normal part of life—part of nature—and nature is unpredictable. I believe a fear of the unknown is a biological imperative. We tend to be afraid of lightning because it is dangerous and our instinct should be to protect ourselves.
Do you Have Astraphobia?
I have established that a healthy fear of lightning is natural and it is an instinct to protect ourselves. However, there comes a point where your fear turns to phobia. Here are some symptoms:
- Your life is planned around the weather. You're constantly checking the weather. You do not travel, make plans with friends, or leave your home if there’s a change of a storm
- Thunderstorms leave you terrified, shaking, and exhibiting symptoms of a panic attack (hyper-ventilating, racing heart, feeling faint, etc.)
- Hiding in a bath-tub (ahem, this may or may not have been me in the past—extreme example)
- Inability to sleep when thunder and lightning are present
How to Overcome the Fear of Lightning
If you’re afraid of lightning, there are a few practical routes you can take to face your fear.
Familiarity with Lightning Safety
You know that I love to give some sage advice and words of wisdom for those moments when your fears are rational. Here are some general lightning safety tips and further resources:
- This one may be obvious, but, if you are outdoors get inside immediately. Hiding under a tree or in a pavilion will not protect you from getting struck. At the very least, get in a vehicle with a metal roof. Do not touch the door handles or any metal as they will conduct the electricity away from you.
- If you hear thunder or see a flash of lightning, seek shelter inside a structure that has plumbing or electrical. The lightning will travel through those surfaces first, typically giving you time to escape.
- Make sure you are not the tallest thing around you (our home that was struck was at the highest point in our county—even higher than the fire tower). This increases your risk of getting struck.
- The myth that rubber sole shoes will protect you is just that, a myth. You can and will get struck if you’re being reckless.
Use a Weather App
Checking the weather eases my mind, when at home or traveling. Plus, it helps me prepare for my day! The Weather Channel and Accuweather both offer apps that I find useful. NOAA is my favorite website to utilize, and their radar can give you an accurate picture of where the storm is tracking. I know that I advocated not to obsess over the weather—but a healthy awareness is a good way to stay safe and be prepared if anything were to happen.
According to Sensacalm, weighted blankets “mimic the benefits of deep touch pressure therapy”. They have proven useful for children and adults who are on the Autism spectrum, have sensory processing disorders or—you guessed it—anxiety. The pressure releases Oxytocin in the brain, which helps calm the user. It’s like being enveloped in a big, reassuring hug. The blankets are created to be approximately 10% of your body weight, so it doesn’t feel like you are being smothered.
Check out the weighted blankets that Sensacalm offers!
Also for another great resource on weighted blankets check out blanketyourfear.com
Deep Breathing and Prayer
These are two things that I do when I find myself anxious during a storm:
- I’m usually laying in bed trying to sleep. That’s always when the worst weather seems to hit, right? Take some deep breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth. Do it slowly and with purpose, focusing on in-out, in-out.
- Pray (or meditate)—I pray for peace and relief from my anxiety. I know that whatever happens, I will be okay.
Professional Treatment for Astraphobia
If you have experienced a traumatic situation like I have, getting the image and experiences out of your head are difficult. If you don’t have a loved one or family member to talk through your feelings with, a licensed therapist can truly help. There are typically good resources available in every region of the country. A quick google search will give you some options. You can also access therapy from home: check out online options for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other treatment modalities.
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