What Is Astraphobia?

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What Is Astraphobia?

Astraphobia is the fear of thunder and lightning. Storms are natural phenomena that inspire strong emotions in both humans and animals, including fear. At times, this fear may represent astraphobia. It tends to be more common in children, but it is also not uncommon for adults to have this fear.

Astraphobia is not a recognized mental health condition but is considered a specific phobia. Specific phobias involve an extreme fear of a particular object or situation and are one of the most common types of mental disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 9.1% of adults in the U.S. experience a specific phobia each year.

Symptoms

Astraphobia can cause some symptoms that are similar to those of other phobias and some that are unique. Common signs that may occur during a thunderstorm or even just before one begins include:

  • Chest pain
  • Crying
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

People with this phobia may seek constant reassurance during the storm. Symptoms are often heightened when people are alone.

Many people with astraphobia seek shelter beyond normal protection from the storm. For example, they may hide under the covers or even under the bed. They may go to the basement, an inside room (such as a bathroom), or even a closet. They may close the curtains and attempt to block out the sounds of the storm.

Another fairly common symptom is an obsession with weather forecasts. People with astraphobia may find themselves glued to the Weather Channel during the rainy season or spend a great deal of time tracking storms online

Complications

Astraphobia can cause significant distress and make it difficult to function in daily life. Sometimes people develop an inability to go about activities outside their home without first checking the weather reports. In extreme cases, astraphobia can eventually lead to people being afraid to leave their homes.

Without appropriate treatment, the fear of lightning and thunderstorms can contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. It can also have a negative effect on health and relationships and may lead to social isolation or cause people to misuse substances to cope with their extreme fear.

Diagnosis

To diagnose this fear as a specific phobia, a healthcare provider will assess the individual's symptoms. They may ask questions about symptoms and perform a physical exam or lab tests to rule out underlying medical conditions.

If the individual has been experiencing symptoms for six months, they may be diagnosed with a specific phobia if the symptoms meet certain criteria. Specific phobias cause an immediate fear response that is excessive and unreasonable. These symptoms make it difficult for a person to function normally in their daily life.

Recap

A specific phobia diagnosis requires experiencing extreme symptoms of fear that cause considerable distress and are life-limiting. These symptoms must be present for at least six months and not be caused by another mental health condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of astraphobia are not entirely clear. Like other types of phobias, factors such as genetics, family history, and experiences probably contribute to people developing this phobia. 

For example, people are more likely to develop a phobia such as astraphobia if they have a family member with a phobia or other anxiety condition. Having an immediate family member with a fear of lightning or thunder also increases the risk of having the condition.

In some cases, a traumatic experience involving a frightening storm or related experience can also lead to this condition. Experiencing a weather-related natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane, might trigger the onset of this phobia.

Children who have autism or sensory processing disorders are more likely to develop a fear of thunder or lightning. However, in many cases, the exact cause of the phobia is not known.

Recap

A variety of factors can influence whether a person experiences astraphobia. For example, genetics, family history, and experiences often have an impact.

Treatment

Specific phobias such as astraphobia respond well to treatment. Not seeking help can lead to detrimental outcomes, including problems with relationships, mood problems, and substance use problems.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the first-line approach to treating specific phobias. Various strategies may be involved, but people are often taught soothing messages to repeat during storms. They also learn to replace negative self-talk with more helpful, positive self-talk. Visualization exercises can also help people learn to calm their fears.

Exposure Therapy

A CBT technique known as exposure therapy can also be beneficial when treating astraphobia. Various exposure strategies may be used; all centered on gradually exposing people to what they fear. This often involves starting very small and then working up to more fear-inducing situations. With continued exposure, feelings of fear gradually lessen.

Medications

Sometimes, medications are prescribed to help people cope with acute symptoms of fear. Benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and other anti-anxiety drugs may help people cope with feelings of anxiety. These medications are most often used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Coping With Astraphobia

If you have astraphobia, you can help manage your condition by:

  • Using stress management techniques: When you become anxious or have a fear response, use techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to ease your distress and calm down.
  • Not engaging in avoidance: While you might be tempted to hide somewhere in the house where you cannot see or hear the storm, this type of avoidance coping can worsen anxiety in the long run. Instead, make yourself comfortable and practice relaxation techniques to soothe your fears.
  • Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness is a technique that focuses on being more present at the moment instead of worrying about the past or future. Such tactics may help you tolerate anxiety better and reduce the need to engage in avoidance behaviors.

Astraphobia in Children

Astraphobia is extremely common in children. In many cases, these fears are not necessarily signs of a phobia. To soothe a child's fear of thunder and lightning, you can:

  • Remain calm. If caregivers are scared of storms, a child will pick up on the adult's nervousness.
  • Use a combination of reassurance, distraction, and relaxation techniques to help the child cope.
  • Plan a rainy day routine, such as popcorn and movies or board games, to keep the child distracted and give them something to look forward to.

Of course, if the fear is severe and inconsolable, or if it lasts longer than six months, it is important to seek treatment. Over time, a child’s fear of storms could become a full-blown, difficult-to-treat phobia in adulthood.

A Word From Verywell

While a specific phobia like astraphobia can be distressing and disabling, the good news is that it is treatable. If you are worried you have astraphobia, it is important to consult with a mental health professional as soon as possible so you receive the help you deserve.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a specific phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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