Thalassophobia: Fear of deep water (2023)

Thalassophobieis the intense, persistent, and irrational fear (Phobia) of large bodies of water such as the ocean, sea or large lakes. While thalassophobia is typically caused by a past traumatic event, such as Such as a near-drowning or fear of swimming, other factors can contribute, including your upbringing, personality type, and even genetics.

Thalassophobia derives from the Greekthalassa(means "the sea") andPhobos(meaning "fear"). It counts as onespecific phobia, which means that panic, fear and other negative symptoms are triggered by certain stimuli.Specific phobias are one of 11anxiety disorderslisted in theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Thalassophobia is not the same as aquaphobia, the general fear of water.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of thalassophobia. It also discusses some of the treatment options and ways in which phobias such as thalassophobia can be prevented.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Thalassophobia: Fear of deep water (1)

Symptoms of Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia shares symptoms with other specific phobias, such as:claustrophobia. The defining characteristic of thalassophobia is that these symptoms are triggered by contact with or thoughts of deep water.

Everyone experiences thalassophobia differently. Some people panic when swimming in deep water, on a boat, or unable to touch the bottom of a pool. Others get scared just thinking about the sea or looking at pictures of deep water.

Symptoms of thalassophobia and other specific phobias can be both physical and emotional.

Physical symptoms of Thalassophobia

While everyone's experience of thalassophobia is unique, there are some symptoms that are commonly felt. These include:

  • tremors and tremors
  • Sweat
  • Dry mouth
  • Elevated heart rate orpalpitations
  • Difficulty breathing, includinghyperventilating
  • chest pain
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or weak
  • nausea or stomach cramps
  • chills
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands

Emotional symptoms of thalassophobia

Thalassophobia can trigger a panic attack, which can produce the following symptoms:

  • Sudden onset ofAngstor fear
  • Fear of losing control or dying

Compared to many other specific phobias, thalassophobia can be dangerous.Drownis a risk if you experience a panic reaction in deep water.

It might help to remember that the panic reaction is more dangerous than the water itself. If you know you have untreated thalassophobia, always swimming with another person or within sight of a lifeguard can also help.

Diagnose thalassophobia

Specific phobias such as thalassophobia can be diagnosed by your GP. You can also get a diagnosis from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist.

(Video) Guy With Fear of Deep Water Looks at /r/Thalassophobia (Again)

To diagnose thalassophobia, your doctor may ask you questions about:

  • The specific fear
  • avoidance behavior
  • persistence of fear
  • Any limitations in life that result from the fear

DSM-5 criteria for thalassophobia

ThatDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5) provides specific criteria for diagnosing specific phobias. To meet the DSM-5 criteria, an individual must demonstrate:

  • Inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate fear of a particular stimulus; In the case of thalassophobia, this would be the fear of deep water
  • Consistent and immediate fear responsewhen exposed to the dreaded stimuli (deep water)
  • Avoiding the dreaded stimuli(deep water)
  • persistence of fearfor at least six months
  • Clinically significant distress or life impairmentdue to fear and avoidance behaviors

In previous editions of the DSM, a person also had to show insight that their fear was irrational or disproportionate to the situation. As of 2013, this is no longer a diagnostic requirement. This means that someone with thalassophobia might think their reaction is justified and reasonable, even if it limits life activities or causes significant suffering.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a phobia, contact theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline.at1-800-662-4357Information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

Causes, triggers and risk factors for thalassophobia

The causes of specific phobias are not well understood. They may differ from case to case. Some people can develop thalassophobia without a recognized trigger, while others can develop the phobia after a traumatic event.

nature and upbringing

Many researchers believe that specific phobias are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.This means you may be genetically predisposed to a particular phobia, but may not develop it unless you have a traumatic experience or are exposed to triggering events or ideas.


Research shows that certain genes are associated with certain specific phobias, but until now no studies have looked at the genetics behind thalassophobia. However, it is still believed that there is a genetic factor for phobias like thalassophobia, following Darwinian theory of evolution.

Our ancestors were afraid of deep water, and it's likely that those wary of the dangers of deep water lived longer to pass on their genes. This theory is supported by research suggesting that certain phobias are moderately heritable, although the exact percentage can vary.For example, it has been found that the heritability of certain animal phobias is around 45%.

Past traumatic events in or near the water

Thalassophobia can also be caused by traumatic events. An experience of almost drowning in childhood, witnessing a shark attack, never learning to swim, or even hearing scary stories about the ocean are just a few examples of possible events that can trigger thalassophobia.

Through the association of a certain situation, e.g. B. in deep water, with a panic reaction, a phobia of this situation can develop over time.


Some researchers believe that parental behavior may contribute to the development of specific phobias in children. Children with overprotective parents may feel they have limited control over their surroundings. This can contribute to anxiety and the development of specific phobias.

Parents can also model their own fears for their children. For example, a person can develop thalassophobia because a parent has openly stated their fear of deep water.

Other risk factors

One or a combination of factors can put you at risk of developing a fear of deep water.

  • family history:If someone in your family has a specific phobia, chances are you have one too. This can be due to genetics or exposure to the person with the phobia.
  • personality type:People who develop specific phobias tend to be more sensitive and prone to anxiety. They may be unwilling to take risks or have a more negative attitude in general.
  • Other traumatic experiences:A traumatic experience of any kind can make a person disproportionately concerned about danger and more prone to developing specific phobias.
  • Hearing about traumatic events around the water:Knowing someone who died in deep water or experienced a traumatic event in deep water can trigger thalassophobia.

Thalassophobia triggers

Thalassophobia can be triggered by:

  • ocean
  • swimming pool
  • Seen
  • Boating
  • To swim
  • Deep water photos
  • Can't touch the bottom in the water
  • Movies with deep water themes, such asKiefer
(Video) Thalassophobia: The Fear Of Deep Water

Treatments for Thalassophobia

Left untreated, thalassophobia can severely limit a person's life.A person with thalassophobia may experience increased anxiety and stop engaging in activities they used to enjoy, such as B. Going to the beach with friends and family, boating, swimming, watching certain movies, etc.

Phobias are also easily treatable, although the treatment is not always pleasant.

Unfortunately, only about 10% to 25% of people with a specific phobia seek treatment.Because treating a particular phobia often involves exposure to the feared stimuli, many people with phobias avoid treatment.


Exposure therapy is a popular and effective way to treat certain phobias, including fear of the sea.In this treatment, a person is exposed to their feared stimuli with increasing intensity until the extinction of fear is reached.

For someone with thalassophobia, this could start with looking at photos of the sea. Later, the person may watch videos of the sea or deep water. Finally, treatment consists of exposing the person to the sea or a pool.

Through controlled exposure, the person learns that the feared stimulus is harmless. Once this happens, they can begin to associate it with more positive outcomes.

Both single session and multiple session exposure therapy can be effective in reducing the symptoms of specific phobias.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy. It is effective in treating a variety of anxiety disorders, including specific phobias.

In CBT, a person learns insight into their own thought patterns and behavioral responses. Through this insight, they are able to change their thoughts and subsequently change behaviors and feelings.

For specific phobias such as thalassophobia, CBT is often used as a complementary treatment to exposure therapy.However, some people may prefer CBT over exposure therapy because it involves less initial distress.


In extreme cases, certain phobias can be treated with medication. This is often done in conjunction with other types of treatment or for specific situations. For example, if you have thalassophobia and will be on a boat, you can take medication to manage your symptoms during the activity.

Some medications used for this purpose include:

  • Beta blockers:These medications are often helpful in preventing symptoms of anxiety, such as tremors and rapid heartbeat.
  • tranquilizers: Benzodiazepinecan help you relax in the presence of a triggering stimulus. Because these drugs can be addictive, they are not recommended for long-term treatment of specific phobias.

When to get treatment

Thalassophobia can affect your quality of life. It can prevent you from socializing or engaging in recreational activities. If your symptoms are bothering you or isolating you, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

Complications of Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia can cause great distress while you are in the presence of certain triggers, but this may not be the only impact it has on your life. Long-term, untreated thalassophobia can cause other types of mental health problems as well.

(Video) Fear of Big Things Underwater

panic attacks

People with specific phobias can experience panic attacks.These panic attacks can be debilitating and potentially dangerous. In particular, panic attacks related to thalassophobia can be dangerous, as having a panic attack in or near deep water can result in drowning.


Research has found a strong link between specific phobias and the later development of other disorders such as generalized anxiety and major depression.

loneliness and isolation

People with specific phobias can self-isolate to avoid triggering stimuli. If you have thalassophobia you can avoid any social interaction that takes place near water, such as B. in pools or on the beach. In extreme cases, you can avoid watching movies that take place near water. This type of avoidance can mean less social interaction, which can lead to loneliness and isolation.

substance abuse

Research has found that people with anxiety disorders, such as specific phobias, can self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Dealing with Thalassophobia

Dealing with thalassophobia can be challenging, but there are things you can do to limit your response to stimuli.

breathing exercises

Sometimes it can help to focus on your breathing.If your thalassophobia is causing you a panic attack, try lying on your back with your eyes closed. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose. Try to make each inhalation and exhalation last about six seconds. Continue until you feel more relaxed.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

In progressive muscle relaxation, muscles contract and relax, starting with the feet and moving up the body toward the head.

mindfulness training

Mindfulness is a thinking practice that helps your brain slow down and focus on the present. As you practice mindfulness, stop and consider how your body feels, what's going on in your head, and what's happening around you. Mindfulness can help you overcome the anxiety you are experiencing in the moment and become more confident.


Visualization can help some people overcome a specific phobia.At home or in a place with no triggering elements, try imagining yourself near deep water. When this visualization no longer scares you, you can imagine swimming in deep water. Combining this type of visualization with therapy can help you overcome your thalassophobia faster.


It's important to take care of your own needs while trying to overcome your thalassophobia. Try not to isolate yourself. Make sure you have someone to talk to and consider joining a support group.

Prevent thalassophobia

Specific phobias cannot always be prevented, but it is possible to avoid some of the situations that could lead to their development.

get help

If you experience a traumatic event near deep water, if you frequently feel anxious near deep water, or if you feel that your avoidance of deep water is affecting your quality of life, it's a good idea to start with your doctor, a therapist, or a psychologist. Seeking treatment early, before your symptoms become overwhelming, can help prevent you from developing a debilitating phobia.

Exemplary behavior for the family

If you have children, don't let them see that you react negatively to deep water. Also, avoid being protective of your children. Children can take on their parents' fears and become anxious when parents are overprotective.

Fear of the Unknown: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


Thalassophobia is a specific phobia of deep water. Specific phobias are irrational fears of specific stimuli that are disproportionate to the actual danger.

(Video) I AM A WIMP #004 - Thalassophobia (Fear Of The Ocean)

People with thalassophobia can have a panic attack near deep water. In severe cases, a photo of the ocean or a swimming pool can be enough to trigger symptoms.

Thalassophobia can be treated with therapy. Treatment usually involves gradual exposure to the triggering stimulus.

A word from Verywell

Specific phobias such as thalassophobia are widespread and easily treatable. If your fear of deep water is affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor or a trusted friend or family member.

Exposing yourself to water, rather than avoiding it, can also help reduce your anxiety, especially if you do it under the guidance of a mental health professional.

frequently asked Questions

  • Why are some people afraid of deep water?

    Researchers don't know exactly what causes thalassophobia, fear of deep water, and other specific phobias. It can be a combination of genetics and environmental triggers, such as B. A traumatic experience in or near deep water. Some people can develop thalassophobia by watching someone with a fear of deep water, such as B. a parent.

  • Why is thalassophobia so scary?

    Thalassophobia can include both the fear of drowning in deep water and the fear of what might be lurking in deep water. The ocean and other large bodies of water are mysterious, and people with thalassophobia can easily be overwhelmed by the imagined dangers. When thalassophobia leads to panic attacks, the dangers of deep water can become very real as you can drown in the water.

  • What is the difference between thalassophobia and fear of drowning?

    Fear of drowning is a trait of both thalassophobia and aquaphobia (fear of water). There is no specific phobia for fear of drowning as it is considered part of a larger fear. Both thalassophobia and aquaphobia can involve other related fears. For example, people with aquaphobia may also be afraid to drink water or take a shower.

    (Video) Terrifying Pics To Show Why The Fear Of Deep Water Is Real


Is thalassophobia the fear of deep water? ›

The thalassophobia definition is pretty straightforward — it's defined as the persistent fear of vast, deep, and often dark bodies of water that feel dangerous. Specifically, thalassophobia describes a person's fear of the great unknown in the water right below their feet.

How can I conquer my fear of deep water in swimming answer briefly? ›

To overcome fear on your own, you need to start the practice of diving into the water with your head, which is a very difficult test for a person suffering from bathophobia. You need to learn how to breathe evenly, hold your breath correctly, open your eyes, look at the bottom-fish and algae.

How do I beat thalassophobia? ›

Is there an effective treatment?
  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for overcoming a specific phobia, such as a fear of the ocean. ...
  2. Medication. Medications may also be able to help treat anxiety symptoms. ...
  3. Natural remedies. ...
  4. Virtual reality exposure therapy.

Why are people scared of thalassophobia? ›

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. The word “thalassophobia” refers to a fear of the ocean or other large, deep bodies of water. A person with thalassophobia may be afraid of the vastness or emptiness of the ocean, the sea creatures in the water, or both.

How long does thalassophobia last? ›

SpecialtyPsychiatry, clinical psychology
DurationMore than six months
TreatmentSystemic desensitisation, exposure therapy, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication

What are some facts about thalassophobia? ›

What is thalassophobia? Thalassophobia is an intense fear of large and/or deep bodies of water, such as oceans, seas and lakes. The word itself has Greek origins with 'phobia' meaning 'fear' and 'thalasso' meaning 'sea'.


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