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Storms brewing in our heads
The entire East Coast is now experiencing Hanna-phobia. Or Ike-xiety.
Amplified by frantic media reports and our own personal uncertainty, collective anxiety about howling winds, thunderclaps, driving rain and disruptions of daily routine can be worse than the real weather event, say researchers.
Therapists have an actual moniker for those with an acute fear of hurricanes and tornadoes - “lilapsophobia.” There are other meteorological maladies: ancraophobia (fear of wind); astraphobia (fear of thunder or lightning); and ombrophobia (fear of rain).
During hurricane season, such anxieties can surface in varying degrees of intensity. People can overreact - or give in to worst-case scenarios painted by cringing, rain-soaked news correspondents.
All that nail-biting can be more distressing than the actual storm, said psychologist Craig Marker, director of the Anxiety Treatment Center at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Worriers often equate uncertainty with a bad outcome,” he said. “They jump to the worst possible conclusions. As humans, we have this great capacity to predict the future and its consequences. But our anxieties often bias this prediction - it can become a burden when we can´t do anything more to get ready.”
Blame it on our collective control-freak mentality. Much of the worry is fed by the “inability to tolerate uncertainty,” Mr. Marker said.
“That´s why some people say they´d rather know for sure that the outcome will be bad rather than be left in suspense of not knowing for sure,” he added.
A small-scale 2006 University of Iowa psychological study of 139 adults revealed that fewer than a quarter of those surveyed felt absolutely no fears about bad weather, while 73 percent had at least a moderate concern. Half - 69 of the respondents - admitted that big storms made them feel “panic” while 46 said they felt “helpless.”
“Worrying is a way for people to gain certainty,” Mr. Marker said. “It can help people feel like they´re doing something to solve the problem. Worriers will look for information and possible solutions to every problem they can come up with, but the answers - which are never certain - won´t satisfy them.”
Then there’s that television news coverage - with whirling storm graphics, blinking weather maps, sodden reporters and alarming video footage.
“We have very vivid pictures of hurricanes ‘available’ to us,” Mr. Marker said. “We can easily remember people on rooftops with water all around them while watching television images of Hurricane Katrina. We can remember the images of roofs blown off of houses during Hurricane Andrew.
“What is not available to us is the information of how many storms have gone by us without incident. We don´t easily remember the rainy day that Hurricane Ernesto gave us in 2006.”
Mr. Marker offers a reality check for those feeling anxious about raindrops.
“Stressed by the uncertainty of the weather forecast, we can ask ourselves what we can do to prepare. But once preparation is complete, ask yourself whether there´s an advantage in continuing to worry. Would you be less anxious if you accepted that you just don´t know what´s going to happen? Is your worry helping or hurting?” he asked.
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