Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening or a treatment for anxiety? We speak to a psychologist and sleep expert about how the latest wellness trend of “Thunder Therapy” is all down to association…
Natural sounds and ‘green’ environments have long been linked with feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. Thanks to a 2016 study by researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, we know that natural sounds like rainfall physically alter neural pathways in our brains, helping us to reach a calmer state of mind.
The study showed that those who listened to artificial sounds had patterns of inward-focused attention, linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. But those who listened to nature sounds encouraged more external-focused attention, indicating higher levels of relaxation.
Just like any other natural elements such as the rain or wind, listening to the sounds of thunder can have a calming effect on those suffering from anxiety-related conditions – unless they suffer from Astraphobia that is…
“The brain is very good at making associations”, explains psychologist and sleep expert Hope Bastine. “Environmental triggers or reminders, can in fact trigger the psychophysiological response – a bit like a placebo, which is the most powerful effect in medicine.
The mind and body remember what it’s like to actually be in nature i.e. often our first response when going outdoors is to breathe a deep sigh of relief, thereby activating the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing heart rate and improving our breath patterns. We witness the same effect when reminded of nature through images and sounds”.
This is why thunderstorms arouse mixed responses. For some, especially animals, they can be terrifying – a reason why the Thunder shirt (a bit like a weighted blanket) was invented for swaddling anxious pets. For others, the rumbling of an imminent storm can be erotic. Remember that 80’s Badedas advert?
This is due to the oxytocin, explains Bastine. “The comfort you feel when cuddling during a storm will release the love hormone oxytocin, creating a sense of calm and wellbeing. So we learn to associate the drama of a storm with the comfort of a loved one”.
For others, it might present a cosy memory; when all the family would have to stay inside and spend quality time together, or remind us of being on holiday, when a thunderstorm would blow away the humidity and bring some sunshine.
See what response a thunderstorm evokes for you by downloading the Rain Rain app.
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