In this blog, we will summarize the fear of lightning, called Brontophobia.
Brontophobia is an intense fear of thunder and lightning affecting people of all ages, but more common in children than in adults.
It is derived from the Greek word ‘Bronte’ and ‘Phobo’ meaning fear.
Children usually outgrow this, but there are cases in which this fear continues.
An estimated 6 million people in the U.S. suffer from various phobias. Women are twice as likely to suffer from them as men.
It’s estimated that up to 28% of people suffer from phobias.
The American Psychiatric Association has not recognized Brontophobia as a specific mental disorder.
Brontophobia is also named as
Brontophobia is an irrational fear of lightning and thunder that leaves the person incapacitated to perform his routine activities.
It is a treatable phobia and falls under the category of specific phobias.
Many natural phenomena pose a threat to us, because of our inability to control them.
Humans have a basic instinct to manipulate and regulate the things around us, and when this seems impossible then it poses a peril.
Thunderstorms are threatening because of the magnanimity of its loudness and elicits extreme reactions from the sufferer.
By just thinking of thunder and lightning the person experiences immense amount of anxiety.
It is very common to experience symptoms resembling a panic attack at the mere mention of these weather conditions or reading a weather forecast.
The physical manifestations are sweating, dizziness, rapid heart beat and confused state of mind.
Causes of Brontophobia
The irrational fear of thunder and lightning arises from a number of factors.
Genetics as well as environmental factors all playing a pivotal role in the development of such deep-seated fears.
Phobias or Astraphobia are common in people who have a family history of anxiety disorders or other psychological problems.
Anxiety related illnesses are common in the families of people with Brontophobia.
Stressful or traumatic event
If a person had a bad experience during a thunderstorm where an accident might have occurred, like the strike of lightning that damaged something, then every time the same fear will be evoked even in the absence of a real threat.
People suffering from Brontophobia keep checking weather forecasts for bad weather.
People with a phobia of thunder and lightning may avoid situations where a storm might be present, such as a camping trip or a picnic.
This phobia may cause them to go irrationally out of their way to avoid bad weather, such as canceling plans at even a slight possibility of a storm.
Brontophobia can be attributed to evolution, instinct, and a natural physiologic response, says Alan Manavitz, MD, clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“It can be instinctual or learned or traumatic in origin,” he says. Evolutionarily, it makes sense to want to avoid a storm, since they can very realistically present danger.
However, having an overwhelming physical reaction to a storm when you are knowingly safe in a home is a condition that can be overcome.
It is famously quoted, ‘The fear of facing your fears is harder to overcome than the fear itself.’
Most of the behavior is also learnt according to the Social learning Theory presented by Bandura et.al.
Children pay attention to some behaviors presented by parents or significant others.
These people whose behavior is imitated are called models. They first encode their behavior and later it might be imitated.
This may be done regardless of whether the behavior is ‘gender appropriate’ or not.
First, the child is more likely to attend to and imitate those people it notices as similar to itself.
Consequently, it is more likely to imitate behavior modeled by people of the same gender.
Second, the behavior that the child or a person imitates will be met with either reinforcement or punishment.
If imitated behavior and the consequences are rewarding, it is likely that performing the behavior will continue.
Third, the person or the child will also observe what happens to other people when deciding whether or not to replicate someone’s actions.
A person learns by observing the consequences of another person’s (i.e., models) behavior.
If a negative behavior is positively reinforced then chances are high that this kind of behavior will become a norm.
This is known as vicarious reinforcement.
Phobias are also developed the same way.
If the fear of thunder or lightning has been positively reinforced over the years and this has been observed by a child or another person, then this fear gets consolidated.
Symptoms of Brontophobia
The symptoms of Brontophobia resemble a panic attack. It hinders the normal functioning of the sufferer.
The symptoms are as below
- difficulty in breathing
- anxiety during rains
- anxious while thinking of thunder
- tense muscles
- hiding during storms
the person suffering from Brontophobia can undergo a full-blown panic attack even at the mention of a thunder storm or even if he hears a sound that resembles a thunder or crackling of a lightning.
This type of fear is very commonly taken as an attention seeking behavior.
All symptoms of phobia or anxiety related disorders should be taken seriously if they persist for more than 6 months.
This is the criteria set in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-V.
Therefore, if the symptoms are evident then medical help should be sought and therapies should be under taken.
Treatment for Brontophobia
Brontophobia can be treated through different treatments. These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy (Systematic Desensitization), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.
Let’s take a look at these forms of treatments.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
In CBT the therapist helps the client to modify his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.
This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.
This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Therefore, the results are seen soon.
It changes the way a person thinks and feels.
CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrate on the present situation.
Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.
It can be in individual therapy sessions or in groups sessions teaching strategies that can be beneficial in daily life.
2) Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)
This is one of the most common therapy used in treating phobias.
In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the phobic situation or stimulus gradually with varying durations of time.
Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.
In Brontophobia the client is exposed to the sound of thunder and images of lightning.
It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s.
The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’
Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client.
Then the client is asked to present a list that has hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most.
The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.
3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.
We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.
We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions.
In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!
In Brontophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is in the presence of the phobic stimulus.
Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms.
They learn to watch or name their thoughts, how the thoughts unfold physically in front of them.
Therefore, when the person suffering from Brontophobia is taught to watch his thoughts, he is better able to see for himself what he is scared of.
The client is taught to pay attention to his breathing –inhalation and exhalation.
For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.
The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.
The client will meditate during the exposure to flowers and with practice either in imagery first will be able to relieve himself of the symptoms.
5. Self-Help Groups
Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.
These groups are comprised of individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias.
They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.
This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.
Thus, the chances of self-improvement and catering to own anxieties for ramifications becomes effective.
6. Changing Lifestyle
Breaking down the monotony of the daily helps break down anxiety as well.
• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:
Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.
• Indulging in an exercise regime:
Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
• Altering eating and drinking habits:
Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.
This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum.
With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.
• Improving the sleep cycle:
When we get proper rest, our concentration improves and indulging in negatives lessens.
In Anthophobia, the client is asked to alter his sleeping patterns so that improved sleep pattern can be developed.
FAQs about Brontophobia
Why do thunderstorms give me anxiety?
Thunderstorms give anxiety due to the extreme weather condition it brings with itself and the lack of control over this natural phenomenon.
The loud sound that thunders are accompanied with cause discomfort and fear as well.
People suffering from Brontophobia may find the situation incapacitating.
What causes lightning to strike a person?
A person can be struck by lightning due to a “short circuit” that is created between the person and a nearby tall object.
The lightning actually strikes the object and jumps from it on to the person.
What do you do if you’re scared of thunderstorms?
If you are scared of thunderstorms, first, stay indoors. Secondly, start some deep breathing exercises.
You can also focus on some mindfulness techniques.
Are thunderstorms dangerous?
Yes, thunderstorms can be dangerous because every thunderstorm produces lightning.
More people lose their lives to thunderstorms than to other weather extremes like tornadoes.
Titles to read
Here are some interesting books to read for your child or for yourself.
- A Party for Clouds: Thunderstorms (Bel the Weather Girl) by Belinda Jensen and Renée Kurilla | Jan 1, 2016
- Fear of Thunder by Andrew Forster | Jan 1, 2007
- Who is Afraid of Thunder? A Cute Story About Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Thunder by Ben Beetle | Feb 9, 2018
- Greta and the Dark Cloud: A Story About Overcoming Fear and Anxiety for Kids (Thunderstorm Book for Children Ages 3-7)
- Some Account of The Nature And Effects Of Thunder & Lightning, With A Remedy For The Fear Of It, by Charles Richard Cameron | Aug 27, 2015