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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There are hundreds of phobias out there, but you may have never heard of Astraphobia. Even more surprising than that is the fact you may suffer from it and not even know it. The possibility of storms is a reality every month of the year for us in the Midstate. For some, that leads to a 24/7 nightmare - a fear of storms - Astraphobia. Doctors tell us they are treating more and more patients in recent months!
Lighting. Thunder. Wind and rain. Tornadoes. Hearts beat at their most intense. All terrifying for those who suffer from Astraphobia - the intense, debilitating fear of storms.
"I watch the weather as much as the meteorologists do and I know for a week that a storm is coming and monitor it for a week," says Brentwood resident Kelly Smith.
Smith has been living Astraphobia for years, and the fear takes over her life.
"It's manifested itself physically, for days knowing that a storm is coming I start to get physically sick," says Smith. "When I start to hear the warnings and hear the sirens it's a real fear that something is going to happen."
The anxiety that something could happen to her, her husband or their 2 children sparks an intense fear that goes into high gear when storms approach.
"I start to pace around," says Smith. "I pace, my stomach gets upset, as if I were on a roller coaster. My palms start to sweat, that's when I know that something is approaching. It's an absolute phobia, absolutely."
So how do you know if you have Astraphobia? Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital Dr. Todd Peters tells us it starts when the fear of storms impairs your normal life.
"It prevents adults from going to work sometimes, it prevents kids from being able to go to school, it sometimes prevents people from being able to leave their house," says Dr. Peters.
Dr. Peters says the lack of control over thunderstorms is what causes the phobia, but you can control the fear inside yourself.
"I almost think about anxiety like a thing that comes from the outside that finds fertile ground and sets up shop and like a good gardener, we have to figure out ways to weed it back," says Dr. Peters.
Knowledge is key to beating the phobia, Dr. Peters says. The more you know about storms and how they work, the more you'll understand when the threat is real. He also says having a safety plan in place and keeping up with the weather will provide some peace. In some cases, therapy of anti-anxiety medicine may be your best bet. Kelly Smith finally reached her breaking point last year after an outbreak of tornadoes. Tired of feeling helpless and vulnerable, the family decided to take their own action by installing a tornado shelter. Surrounded by concrete in their garage, Kelly now feels safe.
"My coping mechanism now is getting down in the storm shelter," says Smith. "Best investment we ever made."
"There's no price, to see her at peace and to know that the kids are not going to develop that fear and anxiety of storms," says Brian Smith.
Astraphobia is one of the few phobias that are seen in both humans and animals. Vets say while anti-anxiety medicines can be prescribed, desensitizing your pets to thunderstorms and rewarding them with treats when they don't get scared can help.
Tuesday, February 26 2013, 12:59 AM CST
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