All about thalassophobia, the uncontrollable fear of large bodies of water

Have you always refused to put a toe in the water? Whether you are sailing on a lake, on the sea, or on the ocean, does the distance from the shore worry you? Dark waters terrify you and you fear attacks from unknown creatures? Then you may be suffering from thalassophobia, a more common phobia than it seems. How does it manifest? What techniques to overcome it and simplify your daily life?

Definition: what is thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia refers to a intense, irrational and uncontrollable fear of the sea depths – or not. In other words, people who suffer from it can trigger strong anxiety reactions in contact with vast and deep bodies of water (ocean, sea, lakes, etc.), when no apparent danger arises. They don’t have not only afraid of water (aquaphobia)but of the ocean, lake or sea in question, and potential dangers (tide, animals, etc.).

Is a thalassophobic person afraid in a swimming pool?

Thalassophobes are not afraid of water, strictly speaking. They can therefore bathe in a shallow pool, which offers good visibility. However, the intensity of the phobia depends on each person.

What is the difference with bathophobia, the phobia of the depths?

Bathophobia refers to the phobia of the depths. She does not only concern the aquatic environment : bathophobic people dread anything that cannot be perceived, because of its darkness or its depth (the depth of wells, long dark corridors, etc.).

What is wave phobia called?

Wave phobia can be associated with thalassophobia, but depends on specific mechanisms. It is called cymophobia.

Thalassophobic people generally develop avoidance strategies so as not to be confronted with their fears. Because if they are aware of the irrational nature of these, they are unable to control them. When confronted with a large body of water, they can experience various debilitating symptoms:

  • chills,
  • excessive sweating,
  • breathing problems,
  • heart palpitations,
  • dizziness or nausea,
  • chest pain or feeling of tightness
  • anxiety attacks,
  • etc

A simple photograph of the sea or the ocean is sometimes enough to trigger a feeling of intense unease and the pressing need to get away.

What test to know if you are thalassophobic?

He there really isn’t a test to diagnose thalassophobia. To know if you are – or not – affected by this phobia, pay attention to your reactions in the presence of such bodies of water. A posteriori, a doctor or a mental health professional (psychologist, psychiatrist) may be able to confirm your self-diagnosis – and above all, help you identify the underlying mechanisms of this phobia.

Causes: why am I afraid of the depths?

Water covers approximately 72% of the Earth’s surface. And the seabed is still unknown to man. This is therefore the main reason why some people develop an uncontrollable fear of the seabed. This phobia is fueled by seemingly rational facts: it is not known which potentially dangerous species inhabit the sea depths. Hence the fear of swimming without visibility, and the fear of traveling long and far at sea.

Some people are also petrified, because they have the feeling of being drawn to the bottom or of no longer know how to swim when they no longer have their feet.

Finally, thalassophobia can be fueled by trauma experienced in childhood, adolescence or adulthood. It may also have been transmitted by one of our parents (a father or a mother who was afraid of the depth of the water and passed on their anxieties).

Thalassophobia is not inevitable. On the other hand, it is necessary to get involved to identify the causes. The behavioral and cognitive therapies (TCC), supervised by a professional often prove to be very effective. Other approaches can also be tried, such as hypnotherapy, but also relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to reduce anxiety.

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