Defining Thalassophobia And Learning To Cope

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Thalassophobia, a Greek term translating to “fear of the sea,” encompasses a fear of large bodies of water like the ocean, a fear of traveling on water, and apprehension regarding creatures living below the water's surface, particularly in large bodies of water or deep bodies of water. This phobia may cause significant distress in your life.

The anxiety stemming from thalassophobia might result in missing events with family and friends or feeling uncomfortable while others enjoy themselves in water-related settings. At its worst, specific phobias like thalassophobia can lead to severe complications, such as substance use disorder, depression, or anxiety disorders.

There are methods to cope with and manage thalassophobia, including seeking support and receiving professional help to manage symptoms or address the root causes of your persistent and intense fear. Relaxation techniques, in vivo exposure therapy, and virtual reality exposure therapy can help reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

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Thalassophobia can be disruptive to daily life

What causes thalassophobia?

The cause of thalassophobia varies depending on the individual's situation. It may include traumatic events related to the ocean, learned behavior from a family member (particularly parental figures), genetic predisposition, or environmental factors affecting brain function.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Phobias can be challenging to recognize, since what seems irrational to those without the phobia is very real and alarming for the individual. Phobias may involve physical symptoms like chest pain or a sense of losing control that often accompany a panic attack or anxiety attack. While there are no current means of prevention for thalassophobia, there is hope for relief with treatment.

With consistent treatment, some people with thalassophobia can manage symptoms in a matter of weeks or months, while others report changes within a year. Therapy, help from a support system, and intentional, gradual exposure to large bodies of deep or open water are some options available for individuals seeking to manage their mental disorders or mental illness.

Complications from thalassophobia

Some people who have never experienced the difficulties resulting from an intense phobia may not understand, or even validate, those experiences in others. But complications due to mental health conditions like thalassophobia can significantly impact the mental health of those who have it. 

  • Social Isolation - Some who experience thalassophobia may avoid social interaction because of their fear. If avoiding any body of water also results in missing out on important events, they may experience feelings of loneliness, relationship problems, problems at work, or problems at school.
  • Mental-Health Disorders - Depression and anxiety sometimes manifest from feelings of fear associated with an intense phobia. 
  • Substance Use Issues - Some people use drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress they feel as a result of their phobia. 

How do I know I have a water phobia?

To determine if you have thalassophobia, it's essential to first understand the difference between fears and phobias. Fear is a negative emotional response to an object or event, while a phobia entails such severe anxiety that it negatively impacts an individual's quality of life. If your fear of deep bodies of water, such as the deep sea, interferes with daily life, you might be experiencing thalassophobia. Some other indications include:

  • Immediate fear response and intense anxiety upon exposure to the sea or even thoughts of the ocean.
  • Feeling powerless to control your fear or symptoms, such as during a panic attack.
  • Physical symptoms like nausea, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and more.

If you've always had a fear of the sea but are unsure if it qualifies as a phobia, consult a mental health professional for medical advice, or further research the differences between fear and phobia. Familiarizing yourself with up-to-date literature can help you determine whether your symptoms align with fear or phobia.

Although self-diagnosis using online tests and questionnaires is tempting, it's often insufficient for an accurate diagnosis. Instead, if you suspect thalassophobia, record your symptoms and context details, then discuss them with a mental health professional. They can provide proper guidance on treatments even in cases of poor treatment acceptance.

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How can I move forward?

Phobias are characterized by debilitating fear or anxiety, and they can cause significant changes to the way that you structure, or live, your life. People with phobias, including thalassophobia, can undergo treatment for their condition and potentially limit the reach of their symptoms. 

Find support

Finding like-minded online support groups can be extremely beneficial when working toward overcoming thalassophobia.  Support groups can also come in the form of in-person groups, and therapist-run support groups (online or in-person). 

These groups are usually more structured than many support sites online. Therapist-facilitated groups may use a more focused approach to support people coping with a specific phobia, or they may be used as a generalized source of support for people with phobias of all kinds. 

Exposure therapy to treat thalassophobia

Another way to overcome thalassophobia is to face the fear directly. This is also sometimes referred to as exposure therapy. For example, if your fear stems from an inability to swim in deep water, you may take a swimming class. If you’re worried about sea creatures, you may try visiting them at an aquarium. If you’re able to look directly at your fears, you may be surprised by how quickly you’re able to move past them. 

It is vital to note that exposure therapy is typically facilitated by a professional and may not be as effective, or may even become problematic, without one. If you find that your own attempts at exposure therapy are not working as you’d hoped, remember that phobias are recognized mental health disorders and can have serious symptoms. Therapy is usually the best course of action. 

Professional help for water phobia

Thalassophobia can lead to anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, if left untreated. Those experiencing this phobia may benefit from talking to a therapist to manage symptoms. Thalassophobia can improve with both standard talk therapy, and a psychological tool called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Therapists employ CBT to lessen or eliminate phobias that are resistant to other methods. It’s based on the idea that symptoms of a phobia are more connected to the anticipation of a phobic event than the event itself. CBT can transform fears into positive thoughts, an approach that may improve your reaction and reduce your fear when later confronted with the phobia in daily life.

With support from a professional counselor, you can develop the tools required to successfully manage the symptoms of, or even overcome, your phobia. For various reasons, it may be difficult for some to seek help when coping with uncomfortable emotions related to a phobia. Some individuals may find barriers to therapy due to availability issues, scheduling limitations, or financial concerns. 

In these cases, speaking with a therapist online using a platform such as BetterHelp may be a good option. BetterHelp can connect you with an experienced counselor available to meet with you anywhere and anytime, often at more affordable rates than in-person therapy. 

Online therapy services such as BetterHelp have been clinically proven to be just as effective as traditional in-person therapy for a wide array of mental health conditions including anxiety conditions such as phobias.

You can see reviews Of BetterHelp Counselors below.

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Thalassophobia can be disruptive to daily life

Counselor reviews

“Brandon has been great and really instrumental in helping me get through a difficult period in my life. He is nonjudgmental, responsive and a great listener. He is also great at reading into what you are saying and finding the underlying cause of your fears and helping you work through it. I’m excited to continue the work to heal with the help of

Brandon.”

“I’m so thankful that I was paired with Faith. She has helped me identify the trauma that is the root of all of my anxiety and has helped me develop and implement coping strategies that have greatly reduced the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. These are things that I will be able to use for the rest of my life, long after I no longer need Faith’s support. Most importantly, she gave me hope. She encouraged me to keep trying. To keep fighting. She told me she was proud of me for being brave enough to even look my fears in the face, and she believed that it would get better. Faith has literally changed my life.”

Takeaway

Living with thalassophobia can be difficult. From feeling too afraid to engage in activities with friends and loved ones, to difficulties with daily life, any phobia can have a very real and lasting impact. With the right tools and professional help, it’s possible to become comfortable with– and even enjoy- activities in the ocean.

It is possible to overcome phobias
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