My Phobia: What Does Drowning Feel Like?
By: William Drake
Updated November 20, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Do you ever get curious to know what drowning feels like? When you have a phobia, it can become very consuming and debilitating, whether you've had to face your fear in the past or not.
Your fear of drowning may be keeping you from learning to swim or going near large bodies of water. The irony is that not learning to swim because of a fear of drowning is more likely to lead to drowning in an emergency. In this article, we're going to cover some ways you can begin to approach this phobia and how you can overcome it.
How to Get Over My Fear of Drowning
The best way to get over your phobia, especially if it is very intense, is through counseling and exposure. There are also additional sources, and we will go over a few of them.
Exposure work should take place with the direction of a therapist and should not be attempted without prior consultation. Your therapist can work with you to create a plan for increased exposure as you gain successful experiences. By exposure, we mean exposure to swimming, not drowning.
Exposure to the fear of drowning can start in small increments and work-up to going into a body of water, such as the ocean or a lake. The counselor may suggest that you find a lifeguard or swim instructor to accompany you while you become accustomed to being in a body of water. This may involve going to a community pool and wading in the shallowest body of water available. Or it may start even slower by sitting poolside and watching others swim in the water until you are ready to go into the shallow water. At no time should you feel pressured to do something that you do not want to do. While your therapist will encourage you to grow through the experience, you should never be put in a position to do something you are not okay with.
Getting swimming lessons and starting small - in a pool where the water only goes up to your chest - would be another way to start. This way, you can start to get comfortable around water and create positive experiences with it. As you build up strength and technique, you can slowly move your way up to bigger pools. Although your counselor will probably not be with you during your swimming lessons, you will have trained professionals with you to ensure your safety. You will not be alone.
Visualization to overcome the fear of drowning is a therapeutic technique of imagining yourself in or near water from a comfortable space. Visualization allows you to stay relaxed from an armchair as you conjure the image of stepping into the water, splashing your face, or maybe swimming, and so on. When you do approach water to overcome your fear, your experience with visualization can help you to stay relaxed. Visualization is a common therapeutic technique for other phobias too.
A useful tool can be self education. It would be gauche of us to tell you, "there is nothing to fear," because we understand that phobias are more complex than that. However, basic theoretical information about aspects of swimming such as buoyancy or breathing techniques can help. Learning about the science of life jackets, for example, could help you if you had to go on a boat. One day, perhaps, you can expose yourself to the knowledge of what it's like to drown. Reading this may be triggering, so please learn in a safe environment.
In counseling, you will have an opportunity to talk about your fear and what led to it. The counselor will ask you many questions to help discover your reasoning unless you already know why you have a phobia of drowning in which case you would discuss it. A common reason for a drowning phobia is an event in your past that caused you to fear the water and drowning. This could have been while learning to swim or other time you spent in the water.
Other less common causes of a drowning phobia are seeing someone else drown or nearly drown, being in a boating accident, or by watching a movie where a character drowns. There could be many causes and the therapist will help you work through those fears and causes.
One way the therapist may help you work through your fear is with cognitive behavioral therapy. In CBT, you will learn how to challenge the thoughts you have surrounding drowning and how you can start to change them to affect you less. This might involve homework assignments, learning coping techniques, and creating positive messages for yourself, as well as attending weekly sessions with your counselor to talk through your fears. Counselors cannot prescribe medication, so if your phobia is causing panic attacks or anxiety that is not controlled by coping techniques, a visit to a doctor may be in order.
Online Therapy Can Help
A counselor, either in-person or online via a service like BetterHelp, can assist you in getting to the root of your phobia and helping you to change any thought patterns that might be making it worse. For instance, was your phobia something you have always had or was it a result of a bad experience? When you are near water does it trigger thoughts like, "I'm going to die," that put you in a state of fight or flight?
As you work through these feelings, eventually you might be able to reduce the intensity of your phobia and even go on to do other things like going on a boat in open water. The important thing is to trust yourself and to take it slow. Too much too fast might discourage you from wanting to keep trying. Below are some reviews from BetterHelp counselors that can help you start the conquest of your phobia.
"Genna gets down to your core fears and addresses them in an understanding, empathetic manner. She has helped me through a very difficult time and has given very valuable, practical advice time and time again. What I like about Genna is that she participates and helps you think of different solutions."
"Kara has provided a safe space for me to express my fears and anxiety. She has provided me tools to help manage my anxiety and continues to support me."
A phobia is more intense than most people's fears and can start to really impact your life if it goes on untreated. Luckily, there are ways to treat phobias so that they are less intense and don't affect your life as much. Remember to take things slow and celebrate the small wins, even if it's just dipping in your feet. With the right tools, we can overcome. Take the first step today.