Severe Weather Phobias: When the fear of storms becomes much more

Severe Weather Phobias: When the fear of storms becomes much more

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Severe weather can cause fear, tension and anxiety for many people throughout their lives. For most, it is rational. But for some, it's an overwhelming feeling - a phobia of severe weather.

"They have a feeling of impending doom," said Dr. Valko. "They really feel that something tragic, something horrible is about to happen."

Having a phobia of severe weather is real, and it becomes more frequent in the spring – the peak of severe weather season.

Dr. Valko says in the spring, everything escalates to a heightened awareness as well as huge spikes in anxiety.

The symptoms can last for hours, and in severe cases, days. It's a phobia found in all ages, and can be consuming in children.

"They worry, they are always looking out the window, they are watching the weather, looking at the clouds," said Dr. Valko. "They are watching what is happening, they are asking their parents, they are asking other kids in school, the teachers. They can't focus on what they are supposed to be focusing on, because they are so worried about the weather."

Symptoms include anxiety, heart pounding, urge to change or cancel plans and overall helplessness.

The more severe symptoms can affect life at home and in school - something the Buschman family deals with.

Pam Hall, the aunt of Zachary Buschman says Zachary is currently being treated for a phobia of severe weather.

"Zachary will hover around the TV, and on his phone, and get into a little bit of a panic, I guess," said Buschman.

The phobia is concentrated mostly on kids ages 6 to 14. Zachary is 12.

"At the beginning of the day, I am fine," he said. "But the closer it gets, I get worried about it. [I'm] looking at my phone or iPad - constantly looking at the weather."

The feeling can be overwhelming.

Zachary's nerves and anxiety can be traced back to one event: June 5, 2010.

He has a vivid memory, and fear, of the night twisters roped through northwest Ohio narrowly missing his family's home.

Zachary recalls waking up in the basement to the sound of heavy rain and thunder. At that age, it seemed even worse than it was. That memory still has an imprint on him and his family today.

So how do you know when a rational fear becomes a phobia?

"Oh, they will know," said Dr. Valko. "Parents don't need to look for it. When it happens, it is so evident, there is no way around it."

According to Dr. Valko, up to five percent of Americans - kids and adults - have severe weather phobias.

"You usually see it cluster in families," he said. "Usually, somewhere an aunt or an uncle had it as well. It may not be a severe weather phobia; it may be a fear of something else."

But there is help to those affected.

Treatment includes self-help groups, exposure therapy and medication for the crippling anxiety in certain cases.

Ultimately, it takes the entire family unit to sooth the fears, but that is not always easy.

According to Dr. Valko, "When it comes to phobias, this is probably one of the hardest ones to deal with because, again, you can't control the weather."

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