My Phobia: What Does Drowning Feel Like?

Updated July 19, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

Do You Have An Unsual Fear Of Drowning?

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 guided exposure. There are also additional sources that you may want to take advantage of, and we will go over a few of them. It is also not uncommon to think, "i feel like I'm drowning" in terms of mental health, which can elevate this physical fear.

Exposure Therapy

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 shallow end. Or it may start even slower by sitting poolside and watching others swim in the water until you are ready to go in. 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.

You can also seek out swimming lessons in a pool where the water only goes up to your chest. 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.


Using 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, 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.

Self Education

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 put your mind at rest if you have 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. A common reason for a drowning phobia is an event in your past that caused you to fear water. This could have been while learning to swim or other time you spent in the water.

Do You Have An Unsual Fear Of Drowning?

Other less common causes of a drowning phobia are seeing someone else undergo a life-threatening event in the water, being in a boating accident, or watching a movie in which a character drowns. There could be many causes, and your therapist will help you work through them.


One way the therapist may help you work through your fear is with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 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 cannot be controlledwith 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 them worse. For instance, have you always had your phobia?Was it a result of a bad experience? Did it develop recently? 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.

If you experience a fear of drowning while swimming, rest assured that you are not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control, a full 46% of adults in the U.S. experience fear or anxiety in the deep end of the pool. What’s more, 68% experience fear in open and deep bodies of water. This fear can range from mild discomfort to a diagnosable phobia that causes unwanted symptoms. The good news is that researchers have a high degree of confidence in their ability to treat phobias of drowning with interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. While it may be difficult to find a specialist in your area who has experience treating the fear of drowning, you can easily find a practiced counselor online. Researchers had been perfecting techniques to administer CBT online even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is consensus in the field that online counseling delivers the same results as in-person treatment.

If you are looking to address your fear of drowning, you can get in touch with a licensed mental health practitioner at BetterHelp. The platform connects people like you with professionals who have been trained to treat a variety of mental illnesses, including phobias associated with water and swimming. If you don’t like the first counselor with whom you are matched, you can switch any time. Below are some reviews from BetterHelp counselors that can help you start the conquest of your phobia.

Counselor Reviews

“Donna strikes the perfect balance of being a non-judgmental listening ear, and giving practical tips and advice. Donna helped me across different problems I was facing at home and at work. She has given me the confidence to manage my fears and anxiety on my own.”

“What can I say, I've talked to Jill for about 8-9 weeks. She knows some of my worst fears, some of my worst secrets...she knows about pretty much everything that goes on in my head. She's really easy to talk to, and always seems to know what to say. She's got great advice, but only if you're willing to hear it, and take it to heart. She's really only been my only counselor, but I feel a connection with her and I enjoy our sessions. I'm just a random guy who needed someone to talk to, and fate gave me Jill as a therapist, and I'm glad the dice rolled that way. She's great, and I would highly recommend her to anyone else that struggles with being a young parent, a business owner, AND an employee.”


A phobia is more intense than most people's fears. If you experience one, it 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 your feet in the water. With the right tools, we can overcome. Take the first step today.

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