My Phobia: What Does Drowning Feel Like?

By Marie Miguel

Updated December 07, 2018

Reviewer Alicia Fiske, LMSW

Do you ever get curious to know what does drowning feel 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 ironic thing is that not learning to swim because of a fear of drowning is more likely to lead to a drowning in an emergency.


Are you ready to put this fear behind you so you can enjoy a day at the beach or the waterpark? Are you ready to not live in fear of drowning anymore? Here are some ways to get over your phobia:

What Does Drowning Feel Like?

Unfortunately, we can never know what death by drowning truly feels like. We can get an idea from people who were saved from drowning, though. Sometimes, knowing more about your fear can help you make sense of it all.

People generally describe the first few seconds as panicky and painful as water starts to rush you and you run out of oxygen. After that initial stage, people say that your body gets relaxed and you enter a euphoric state that is common in many near-death experiences. You stop struggling and things get fuzzy.


How to Get Over My Fear of Drowning

Now that you have an idea what a drowning scenario might feel like, you probably want to know how you can get over your fear and avoid it. The best way to get over your phobia, especially if it is very intense, is through counseling and exposure.

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, I mean exposure to swimming, not drowning. Getting swimming lessons and starting small - in a pool where the water only goes up to your chest, perhaps - is the best 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.


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're 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 take it slow. Too much too fast might discourage you from wanting to keep trying.


Your fear of drowning is a rational thing; no one wants to drown. The problem is that 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.

In the case of drowning, seeing a counsellor and learning to swim can help you start to trust that you can survive around water. Knowing what to expect can help. Remember to take things slow and celebrate small wins like swimming in the deep end for the first time, if you're ready to go that far.

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