KALAMAZOO, Mich. — With an active week of severe weather both in West Michigan and across much of the United States, some people may struggle with anxiety leading up to, during, and after strong storms.
Astraphobia is an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning specifically, but storm anxiety can extend to many different weather elements than just those two things. The problem could be more common than you might think, as the comments on the Facebook post below show.
Kathy Pyatt, a therapist with the Counselling Center at Family and Children Services in Kalamazoo, said there are two key questions in knowing the difference between worry and true anxiety.
“Does it interfere with your life? Do you not want to go anywhere as soon as there’s been a prediction of a storm?” Pyatt said. “You might want to look at that. You might want to talk to somebody.”
She said storm anxiety could even manifest with physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
“Jumpiness, intense anger frequently, not being able to sleep or eat. Not wanting to do things. I think those are some key points of anxiety getting in the way of your life.” Pyatt said.
Technology use in recent years has become a big area of discussion with Pyatt’s clients. In the realm of storm anxiety it could mean constantly checking weather apps could actually increase overall anxiety. She encouraged anyone struggling with storm anxiety to the point that it disrupts your life to reach out to a therapist in the area or someone that specializes in cognitive behavior therapy.
Children can also be affected by severe storm anxiety episodes and Pyatt recommended a set of steps to address the issue with your child.
“Calm him down, let him know. Talk to him about what storms are about, how storms are different. This might just be, you know, a simple thunderstorm, this isn’t something really serious. So talk through the different levels of storms with a child,” she said. “Find out what is it they’re most afraid of, why are they not feeling safe? You’re going to do everything you can to keep them safe, and they need to know that, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
The Mayo Clinic also offered advice for helping a child through their storm anxiety, such as sharing a storm plan and practicing it to help them know what to do during a severe storm.
Some people that have lived through a significant severe weather event may experience anxiety for several weeks, which could be an indicator of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Storm anxiety in pets
As many pet owners know, people aren’t the only ones to exhibit signs of storm anxiety. Similarly to humans, a little nervousness as storms approach is normal, but pets acting completely out of character could require more attention.
Dr. Turnera Croom, a mobile holistic veterinarian in Kalamazoo, said there are several physical signs of intense anxiety.
“If the dog starts to salivate a little bit, which could be a precursor to even vomiting, and then there’s also the whining and just those fear eyes,” Croom said.
She also explained ways to desensitize your dog or cat to storms. She said downloading and playing storm sounds softly while playing with your dog or cat can be a good start.
“Give them some treats, just make it a fun time. Then slowly over time increase the sound of the thunderstorm, continuing to play.” Croom said. “When you turn off the music, the sound of the thunderstorm, that’s when you stop play and stop treats.”
You can also take time to prepare for storm season by ensuring your pet has a space in your home where they feel safe. Croom recommended a plastic crate that is covered.
“Having that safe place and letting them know that that’s a safe place well before storm season is one of the best things you can do to prepare,” she said.
Pressure has also been found to ease anxiety in both people and pets. Anxiety vests for dogs are available, aimed at providing some pressure to their body and ease their anxiety. For a do-it-yourself option, Croom said you can sometimes use a T-shirt or sweater.
Croom has also recently developed her own line of CBD products designed for pets, including the development of a CBD-infused peanut butter that she had not released as of May 23, 2019. She said in recent years the benefits of CBD are becoming more accepted and sought after as treatment of things like anxiety in pets.
“Storm season is coming, I’m getting lots of calls, lots of orders online, because people are finding out more and more that CBD can be very helpful for your pet,” she said.