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Thunderstorms Strike Fear In Some Hearts

Portions of this article are reprinted from The Associated Press which discusses the problem of keraunophobia, an irrational, severe fear of thunderstorms.

Susan remembers thinking that she was going to die as she lay on her bed listening to the rain against the roof and the thunder rumble above her.  A scientist from Connecticut, Susan also recalls hiding under a highway overpass for an hour, afraid the rain would never end.

For Susan and other sufferers of keraunophobia, thunderstorms cause the throat to catch, the heart to pound, palms to sweat and other physical symptoms.  Changes are lightning won’t strike their homes, but it will fill their hearts with fear.

Although most people realize there is some risk involved in a thunderstorm, the keraunophobic person blows that risk out of proportion.  People believe that the lightning will come in through the window and find them in their homes.  One client reported to her therapist that she would not touch the refrigerator during a storm because she was afraid lightning would surge through the appliance’s wiring.  “It felt like you were going crazy.  Although you are very intelligent, your mind goes blank and you try to escape or avoid the situation.”

For Justin, a 38 year old businessman, surviving a thunderstorm is a similar ordeal.  His fear is so severe that if he is alone in the house he must turn off anything that might conduct electricity, stuff his ears with cotton, and hide in a closet.  He said his anxiety during a storm causes him to sweat profusely and become hyperactive.  He experiences anticipatory anxiety, becoming nervous when he knows a storm is on its way and preoccupied with planning his life to avoid the storm.

Conquering the urge to worry that the worst that will happen is part of the treatment for this fear.  Cognitive therapy teaches the person to see the positive rather than the negative aspects of a storm such as how it provides rain for plants and relief from heat.  Before exposure to the storm, the patient is taught relaxation techniques to use during each stage of confrontation until he can be relaxed during a full-fledged storm.  Desensitization in which the phobic person is gradually exposed to the feared object or situation helps too.  Sounds of a storm can be useful if listened to on a recording.  Pictures of a storm on weather channels and other use of video or social media sites can be used since thunderstorms don’t happen in all parts of the country when needed for exposure therapy.  All of this leading up to the person watching and dealing with an actual storm in person.

Some Facts About Lightning

  • Lightning will not come through open windows into a house or building
  • Lightning can surge through overhead electrical and communication wiring into telephones, televisions, computers, etc.
  • You are more likely subject to being struck by lightning if you are the highest object around.
  • Taking a bath or shower during a storm is safe.  Being on or near large bodies of water during lightning storms is not a good idea.
  • Wearing rubber soles on your shoes will not decrease your chance of being struck. Similarly, rubber tires have nothing to do with being safe in the car.
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