November 29, 2006
As many as one in five people might suffer from severe weather phobia, a condition in which individuals become panicked at the thought of storms and cannot function on a normal level until the weather clears, researchers reported in a recent issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
Researchers from the University of Iowa studied severe weather phobia symptoms in 139 individuals. Symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, heart pounding, feelings of panic, sweating, feeling helpless, constantly monitoring television weather reports, inability to sleep or eat, and changing schedules days before severe weather could strike.
The researchers found that about 25 percent of the people surveyed reported enough symptoms to be classified as moderately phobic. Seventysix percent of participants with weather phobia symptoms reported experiencing multiple symptoms on occasion. "They get very afraid even when the possibility of severe weather is days away," said lead author John Westefeld, a psychologist at the University of Iowa. Zeus Flores, creator of the support website www.stormphobia.org, estimated that several million people suffer from the condition. He added that many people are very good at hiding their phobia.
Flores, a self-described storm-phobic, has participated in an experimental treatment program created by Westefeld. The program, which is based on one that treats people who have a fear of flying, uses meteorologists and psychologists to provide sufferers with factual information about storms and to teach them relaxation techniques.
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