With the more frequent occurrence of devastating weather events around the globe its hard not to worry about the future of the planet and the impact, it could have on your life. Dr. Margo Watt a psychology professor at St. Francis Xavier University located in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia, Canada. was wondering if the number of people suffering anxiety and weather-related phobias was going up as a result of the meteorological events. She began looking into this back in 2008 and discovered that there was very little research done about it, she came across two studies done by John Westefeld who coined the term “severe weather phobia” in 1996 but not much else.
“We don’t know a whole lot,” Watt says. “We sort of know that it fits the specific phobia. Some people are so acutely afraid of severe weather and are so negatively impacted by it; that’s about two to three percent. Then there’s another ten percent that report moderate to high fears, so that’s a good chunk of people.” she said to reporter Nathan Coleman on an interview for the Weather Channel.
Research conducted by her in 2012 on people who have experienced severe weather revealed that almost half 42% to 43% had a lot of fear about severe weather. And, of that group, a much smaller group we would say were phobic, meaning they “had great distress if they heard severe weather was approaching and would engage in behaviors to avoid severe weather.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be very effective in the treatment of specific phobias such as these, but the majority of people don’t seek treatment. “Somebody who’s afraid of tornadoes, you might get them to look at pictures and talk about tornadoes. You might get them to look at pictures of tornadoes, then moving images of them.” Working step-by-step through increasing stimuli can help people learn to deal with their fears. “You work them through the hierarchy and, at each step, you get them to stay there until they learn to practice ways of relaxing their distress.”
Recreating or simulating these meteorological events in a controlled virtual reality environment might be a solution to help treat people who suffer from this condition. If you would like to be part of the research Dr. Watt is currently looking for participants for a survey exploring the relationship between personality and fear of the weather.