VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) – Spring is a common time when children and teenagers with weather-related fears exhibit their symptoms.
Intense storms, lightning, thunder, hail, and tornadoes are all part of the Kansas severe weather landscape. But for one young Kansan, worrying about every cloud or gust of wind on a sunny day kept her from going outside to play or even attending school.
Sixteen-year-old Emma Jones has been living with storm-related anxiety since she was seven years old. She recalled the night when it all started.
“The sirens went off, but it was 10 o’clock at night, and I woke up — told mom to grab everything I own and bring it to the basement. I don’t think my feet even hit the bottom of the stairs before I jumped to her bed.”
“It was a bad year that year, we had more tornadoes than average — seemed like we were getting at least twice a week the tornado sirens,” Emma’s mom Judi Jones chimed in saying. “It was hard for her, she was dead asleep and once you got asleep, you couldn’t wake this child up.”
Childhood fears of storms are fairly common as part of normal development. Thunder, lightning, heavy rain, or the wailing sound of a loud tornado siren is enough to trigger a response.
“Tornado watches scare me a little bit ‘cause that means it could happen, but warnings, that is when it gets really, really, really bad,” Emma said. “My anxiety spikes, I check the weather every five seconds.”
Judi Jones said her daughter Emma’s weather-related panic attacks were sometimes so severe that she struggled to breathe.
“She couldn’t catch her breath, she got to a point where you couldn’t reason with her,” Judi said. “When it got to the point when she started struggling to go to school because she was getting so anxious and worked up. She didn’t want to be away from me or away from her family.”
When it gets to the point of interfering with family, social or school activities, help is available. Emma has been working on facing her fears with the help of her mom and Dr. Nicole Klaus, a child psychologist.
“Parents can be good models of active coping,” Dr. Klaus said. “We want to see parents who are telling kids it’s okay to be worried and you can face the things you are worried about.”
Judi said her daughter learned coping skills from Dr. Klaus which helped her deal with her issues.
“I do a lot of deep breathing stuff, if I can focus enough, I can try writing,” Emma said.
To help ease her anxiety, Emma is also in training with her therapy dog Fife.
“I know that I have something like Fife to go over and hold, music helps too,” Emma said.
Dr. Klaus stated the real impact comes from one facing their fears.
“We take all of those tools we have taught kids and have them practice using those tools on a rainy or cloudy day,” she said. Judi said she sat down with Emma and watched video after video about tornadoes with her.
The treatment has been successful for Emma. She shared advice for anybody else facing a fear like hers.
“Trust me, you may not be able to get rid of it, but you can at least make it better.”
Children and young adults are not the only ones suffering from storm anxiety. Adults who may have experienced storm damage in their area due to severe weather may experience a lingering impact on their life.
Too often anxiety and mental health issues are looked at negatively in society. Judi suggests not listening to the phobia nor the stereotype. Rather, she says to speak to a healthcare provider, seek help, and feel better just like her daughter Emma was able to do.