Thalassophobia or fear of the ocean: causes and how to overcome it

By | March 16, 2021

Thalassophobia is an inordinate and irrational fear of the ocean and vast bodies of water. In a more concrete way, it is not concentration that is feared as such, but its breadth, its darkness and what it may contain.

It is obvious that anyone will feel intimidated by the ocean or similar concentrations of water, especially if they rarely have contact with them or do not see land around them. However, in those who suffer thalassophobia this turns into terror.

A person with this condition does not think that the sea is a body of water against which precautions must be taken. Those who experience this phobia feel that the sea or similar places are the most terrifying places on the planet. That is why they avoid them and can panic in front of them.

How to identify it?

People who were born and raised far from the sea experience a natural fear when they are in the ocean. However, they are also curious, and as they become more familiar, many of their fears allay.

In someone with thalassophobia, the fears have to do with the following aspects:

  • Fear that some dangerous animal will appear when it is in the ocean.
  • Fear that someone will emerge from the water and cause harm.
  • Fear of a whirlpool forming under the water and dragging it out to sea.
  • Nonspecific fear of dangers that may be hidden under water, such as some toxic substance or something unknown.

Although this phobia does not constitute a disorder as such, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry (DMS-5) the symptoms coincide with those of the so-called specific phobias. These symptoms include the following:

  • Agitation and nervousnesseven when you think of the sea.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea when viewing a large, extensive body of water.
  • Elevated heart rate and respiratory rate.
  • Difficulty breathing and sweat.
  • Anxiety and feeling of depersonalization with feeling of impending doom.
  • Desire to escape, as well as avoidance of any approach to the ocean.
The fear of the ocean is more than the natural fear that can be had in front of large unknown bodies of water.

You may also be interested in: How to overcome the fear of water and improve your swimming technique

What are the symptoms of a person with thalassophobia?

What are the symptoms of a person with thalassophobia?

People who have a fear of the sea or thalassophobia present a series of characteristic symptoms that identify them. Among them are the following:

  1. They are aware that their fear of the sea is irrational, but they have the feeling that they can do nothing to control it.
  2. They may have physical reactions such as sweating, palpitations, nausea, oral dehydration, among others, generated by the anxiety caused by being near the sea and even seeing an image of a large body of water.
  3. Fear of what is under the water. They panic at the thought of the animals that exist at the bottom.
  4. They avoid going to the beach, since just approaching the shore and feeling the water on their feet causes them a lot of discomfort.
  5. They may have difficulties to speak and/or think clearly when they are near the sea and even in more serious situations, it happens to them when they see images or videos about the sea.
  6. They have panic to travel by boat.

Possible causes of thalassophobia or fear of the ocean

The irrational fear of the ocean and vast concentrations of water can have its origin in three possible causes: previous experiences, education or genetics. Let’s see each one of them:

  • Previous experiences: If a person has had unpleasant or traumatic experiences with water, they may develop thalassophobia. An unexpected event or one that has been interpreted as dangerous can trigger this effect.
  • Education: If those close to you have thalassophobia or a phobic perception of the ocean, this may be internalized and adopted as your own. Hearing lurid stories about it also contributes to this, especially in childhood.
  • Genetics: People who have a family history of this type of phobia are more likely to develop it at some point in their lives.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no specific test or exam to diagnose this type of phobia. It is established that the problem is present from the evaluation of the symptoms that the person presents. There are informal tests on the internet that can suggest the presence of this disorder.

The formal diagnosis can be given by a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Usually a basic questionnaire is applied. It is also possible that images of large bodies of water are displayed to observe the reaction.

Thalassophobia is different from hydrophobia, which is the irrational fear of coming into contact with water. It also differs from batophobia, which is an exaggerated fear of deep waters, extensive or not.

Discover: We tell you which are the most common phobias in the world

How to treat thalassophobia

Fortunately, thalassophobia can be treated effectively and there are several ways to do it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the best treatment options. This method focuses on transforming behaviors and associated emotions into more adaptive ones.

There is a modality of this cut that usually has very good results and it is exposure therapy. It consists of putting the patient in contact with what he or she is afraid of for a long enough time so that anxiety decreases naturally. It takes place gradually.

Another interesting option is systematic desensitization. In this case, the patient is motivated to learn and develop non-anxious behaviors in the face of what causes fear. Both in this case and in the previous one, virtual reality is often used.

When the origin of the phobia is a traumatic experience, EMDR therapy can be very effective. This is a neurological technique that uses eye movements, auditory stimulation and tapping or small blows to the knees to generate a physiological response to help overcome the trauma.

There are therapeutic alternatives for thalassophobia. The choice will depend on the professional treating the disorder.

Complications of thalassophobia or fear of the ocean

Thalassophobia, like any other irrational fear, can significantly condition a person’s life. Sometimes other aspects of the personality are affected, which is very inconvenient. The main complications are the following:

  • Isolation and loneliness: in some circumstances irrational fear leads to a general sense of incompetence that translates into progressive isolation and avoidance of social situations.
  • Panic attacks: These irrational fears can lead to panic attacks, which are sudden and very intense, to the point where they block the ability to act or react.
  • Depression: It is common for people who suffer from phobias to also have symptoms of depression.
  • Use of psychoactive: some people may turn to alcohol or other psychoactive drugs to regulate or try to dispel their irrational fear.

How to prevent phobias?

The best way to prevent thalassophobia and any other phobia is by stopping fears from taking advantage. If you have had a traumatic experience with water or any other object, it is indicated to treat the situation as soon as possible so that it does not have major consequences.

If the phobia is already installed, there is no need to torment yourself. The right thing to do is to seek professional help when the person wants or is ready to overcome the problem.

How to overcome thalassophobia

Learn

An important step in starting to overcome fear of the sea is to learn all about it. It should be noted that not all are the same, each has different characteristics, such as temperature, swell, marine animals (take into account the depth in which they are located), among many other things that need to be known to eliminate the ideas that we have wrong.

Relaxation techniques

There are a number of relaxation techniques you can perform to prepare to overcome thalassophobia. Next, we’ll explain one of them that you can easily learn and practice at home.

Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is a technique used to control anxiety, stress and to learn how to relax. It’s very simple to learn and you can practice it this way: first, you inhale slowly and deeply and you feel the abdomen swell, hold the air for 5 to 10 seconds, and then exhale slowly by taking the air out of your mouth. You can repeat this operation as many times as you feel necessary until you feel calmer, performing it slowly and calmly so you won’t have hyperventilation. You can carry it out sitting or standing wherever you are. In this case, you can do it when you are physically near the sea, on board a ship and/or just imagining or looking at a related image that causes you anxiety.

Diaphragmatic breathing: diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is a technique used to control anxiety, stress and to learn to relax. First, you inhale slowly and deeply and feel how the abdomen swells, hold the air for 5 to 10 seconds and then exhale slowly taking the air out through the mouth. You can do it sitting or standing wherever you are. In this case, you can do it when you are physically close to the sea, on board of a boat and/or only imagining or looking at a related image that causes you anxiety..

Exhibitions progressively

After you’ve been exposed to the sea through imagination and noticing that your anxiety has subsided, you can start exposing yourself progressively physically. You can ask a friend or family member to accompany you to gradually approach the shore of the beach and go at the same time performing your relaxation exercises. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t do everything in a single day, this can take weeks or even months, the important thing is to be consistent.

Psychotherapy

In case your fear is too intense, you feel that you can’t overcome it alone and you’d like to eliminate it, you can always choose to go to a professional who can help you. This treatment is similar to other types of phobias where the therapist will tell you everything about your condition, discuss the reasons why it originated, and begin conducting a program to reduce this fear. It is common to use psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring (to eliminate irrational beliefs and modify them by more adaptive ones), relaxation exercises, visualization and gradual exposure to the feared object.

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