EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - It is natural to make or change plans based on the weather, but for some people a stormy forecast is almost paralyzing.
While lots of people are nervous during severe weather, those with storm anxiety may also experience overwhelming fear for days leading up to the storms.
“It makes me feel very tight in my chest, it feels like I can’t really get a deep breath, and my heart starts pounding very quickly,” said Anissa Bradley while discussing her reaction to a stormy forecast.
Bradley’s fear of storms began as a young child living through the April 3, 1974 super outbreak.
“We were in a neighbor’s basement, and we looked out the little window, and you could see there was a funnel that passed over. It was very terrifying not really knowing what that was, and the reaction of the adults around me, that seemed to be extra scary,” Bradley recalled.
Brandi Watson, a therapist with the Lampion Center, says storm anxiety is very common, especially among people with an impactful storm experience like Bradley’s.
“The brain is set up in order to help us protect ourselves from dangerous situations. If I go through thousands of storms in my life, and nothing dangerous ever happens to me during that storm, my brain is not going to register storms as anything but a little scary. If I go through a storm that causes something significant and really scary or dangerous to happen to me, the brain is now going to catalog that as something that I need to be on high alert whenever a storm is present because I know there’s danger there. I’ve experienced it before,” explained Watson.
There are ways to deal with that heightened response. Bradley says becoming more knowledgeable about the weather helped her.
“I’ve become more aware of cloud formations and what clouds look like and some of the terminology as well. Just so I can feel as much control as possible,” she explained.
Watson says making a storm action plan and practicing it can help with your anxiety too.
“Making a little plan for yourself, so that you don’t feel like this is something out of your control and there’s no way you can do anything about it, but instead you have some means to feel in control of that,” she suggested.
Watson also suggests being more intentional with your thoughts.
“Try and moderate your thoughts to something that’s more realistic rather than having your thoughts go towards something that’s maybe more catastrophizing,” she said, encouraging anyone with storm anxiety to reflect, “You may have had a bad experience with a storm, but how many other storms have you been through where nothing of a negative nature has happened?”
Bradley is worried about how her reaction to storms affects her daughter.
“With having an eight-year-old daughter, I’ve never ever wanted her to feel the fear that I felt when I was younger, and even now as an adult, because that’s something that you can’t control,” she said.
“If you have an adult in the household who has a lot of storm anxiety, children can oftentimes pick up on the anxiety that’s in the household too because they take their safety from the adults,” Watson explained.
If your child is afraid of storms, Watson says distractions, such as counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, can be good for both of you.
“Coming up with little tricks like that, both for children and adults can help us to kind of stay grounded in that present moment rather than our mind wanting to take us to worst case scenarios, which is a big part of what anxiety is,” she said.
Both Watson and Bradley want other people with storm anxiety to know, you are not alone, your anxiety does not have to control you, and you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.
“Sitting down and really kind of putting into words all of the thoughts and feelings that they have around the weather and looking at each of those things and breaking them down into tools on how they could deal with it,” she suggests. “If that’s impossible, and even the thought of doing that raises anxiety, that’s a good cue that you might need a neutral resource like a therapist to sit down and help you be able to do that.”
Bradley wants to assure others with storm anxiety, “You’re not abnormal. You can empower yourself by becoming educated.”