PTSD Triggers: Coping with Thunderstorms

Hi there!

How’s everyone doing? Didya make it through the fireworks okay?

Now that the fireworks are over, a lot of people’s first instinct is to forget about it until next year. If you have a really tough time with fireworks, I can certainly respect that…

But – before you do that, please take a few minutes, and make a mental summary of what strategies worked for you this year and what didn’t. Then, use that information to plan what you’ll do the same way next time, and what you might try differently. Learning to live with this beast called PTSD is sometimes a process of trial and error, and you can get better at managing it by adapting your strategy to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

And while we’re on the topic of coping with sudden loud noises that make you jump, let’s discuss thunderstorms. Chances are, thunderstorms are no longer your favourite thing. Particularly the kinds where a giant clap of thunder right outside your window makes you end up under the bed at 3 am.

Not fun.

Okay – here’s what we’re going to do about it:

– Make a habit of reading the weather forecast. If you know a thunderstorm is coming, then it can’t catch you by surprise. If the weather forecast calls for overnight thunderstorms, your plan is to go to bed reminding yourself, “I’m home. I’m safe. They’re calling for thunderstorms – so I may wake up to the sound of thunder, but I’m not in danger”. Having this little conversation with yourself won’t stop you from reacting, but it will make it easier to re-orient yourself more quickly.

– Invest in a nightlight. Get a couple of pictures of a favourite place, somewhere you go to relax. Put the pictures somewhere you’re likely to see them when you first wake up, like your nightstand. If they’re calling for thunderstorms, turn on the nightlight before you go to bed. Being able to see around the room quickly when you wake up, and seeing an image of a familiar and relaxing place, will help you to orient yourself quickly to the fact that you are home and you are safe.

– Shut the window. I know – it’s nice to sleep with some fresh air. But shutting the window will help you block out some of the noise. If you miss having a breeze in your room, get a fan – as an added bonus, the sound of the fan can help to muffle the noise of the thunderstorm.

These ideas will help you re-orient and calm yourself if you react to the sound of thunder.  However – these tips are not enough to help you stop reacting to the sound of thunder. The best way to do that is a strategy called prolonged exposure.

Disclaimer: If you’re getting treatment, I’d like you to talk to your therapist and get them to help you with this. If you’re not in treatment, and you’re really struggling, I’d like you to get some help from an actual therapist, aside from just reading this blog.

If you’re mostly doing okay, but thunderstorms get to you, then this might be an exercise you can try on your own.

– sit comfortably; stretch; relax.

– set the volume on your computer to where you can barely, barely hear it.

– cue up a clip of thunderstorms on YouTube. Here’s one that I use.

– remind yourself that you are home and you are safe, and this is a sound clip on the computer. Keep doing this through the next step.

– hit play. Keep reminding yourself that you’re safe and this is a clip playing from your computer.

(If it terrifies you, and a minute into listening to the clip at the lowest volume you are still not feeling any calmer, STOP. Get a professional to help you with this.)

– if it’s only mildly unpleasant, keep doing this until it feels boring and pointless, and you’re not reacting to it. The next day, turn up the volume slightly, and repeat again until you are no longer reacting. If you keep doing this, slowly and gently, you will retrain your fear reflex that the sound of a thunderstorm is not dangerous.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.


*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.


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5 thoughts on “PTSD Triggers: Coping with Thunderstorms

  1. Thank you was caught off guard last night from the storm and woke up in panic that was being mortared, will definitely pay more attention to the forecast and installing a fan, thank you

  2. Hello, I dont have ptsd I don’t think but a couple years back when I was like 13 I think I am now 16, my dad was not at home so I was by myself and there was a bad storm right up above my house and like 3 bolts hit my yard and the third one struck a big tree in the front and I was in the living room on the couch when the tree fell on the house and fell right above my head I got lucky and the tree didn’t go all the way through the roof but ever since I haven’t enjoyed lighting I ain’t terrified of it but it leaves me skiddish and antsy this helped thanks

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