• Thalassophobia is an intense fear of deep bodies of water distinct from a general fear of water, characterized by avoidance of oceans, lakes, rivers, or even large creeks.
  • Symptoms include anxious rumination, avoidance, preoccupation with avoiding water, fear of marine creatures, and panic attacks.
  • Early recognition of thalassophobia involves self-awareness and noticing aversion or preoccupation with water, along with noting behaviors like nervousness or excessive talk about bodies of water.
  • Causes are individualized and may include genetic predisposition, social learning, or traumatic experiences near water.

We all have our fears, but sometimes they can be disproportionately intense, no matter how dangerous the situation actually is. In these cases, we might not have the tools to manage them on our own, the feelings of fear being too overwhelming to function.

One such fear, or phobia, that people can have is thalassophobia, or the fear of large bodies of water. Though there might not be any imminent life-threatening danger, many people feel extreme fear reactions being near, around, or on large or deep bodies of water.

What Is Thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia is the intense fear of deep bodies of water, such as oceans or lakes. It’s different from just having a general fear of water, as it usually involves a specific intense fear of a body of water that has tremendous depths.

Many who suffer from thalassophobia often report that this causes them to avoid entering into the ocean, lakes, rivers, or even large creeks. It’s important to understand that symptoms are individualized and can look different from person to person. 

Common Symptoms of Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia often mimics many symptoms found in people who experience anxiety, such as: 

Many who experience thalassophobia will also report some secondary symptoms, such as intense fear of being “attacked” by a marine creature while in the water, nightmares of death in the water, and, at times, panic and anxiety attacks due to real or perceived exposure to deep bodies of water.

Recognizing Thalassophobia Symptoms Early

One of the best ways to recognize thalassophobia symptoms early is to be mindful and practice self-awareness. You can recognize these symptoms in yourself and even others if you notice that a strong aversion or desire to not be around a large body of water is present. 

Typically, if someone is talking more frequently, nervously, or even excessively about a body of water, that can mean that they are experiencing a preoccupation of thought about it. If someone is noticeably unwilling to be near a deep body of water, seems fidgety or on edge when exposed to it, or exhibits feelings of restlessness and discomfort that cause them to take measures to avoid exposure at all costs, they might be experiencing thalassophobia rather than a generalized anxiety response.

Causes Behind the Fear of the Ocean

Reasons that people develop a fear of the ocean and deep bodies of water are, again, highly individualized and specific to each person. Some people can inherit a genetic predisposition to be afraid of water and can have the behavior reinforced through social learning or the observation of a family member who experiences thalassophobia. 

Further, some people might have traumatic experiences either within or near a deep body of water. This can cause them to develop a fear response to deep bodies of water, even if the trauma event was adjacent to or did not directly involve it.

Effective Coping Strategies for Thalassophobia

The most effective coping strategies for thalassophobia can be learned through working with a trained mental health professional and receiving professional counseling services. 

During this journey, you’ll learn mindfulness strategies such as deep breathing, using your senses to ground yourself, and repeating mantras. Next, you can expect that you might engage in exposure therapy. 

Exposure therapy involves gradual exposure, both real and imagined, to your feared stimuli, using the mindfulness techniques and calming strategies learned with your therapist to manage your anxious reactions. 

Finally, distress tolerance skills, such as using cold water to ground yourself and practicing radical acceptance strategies, can be helpful in overcoming your anxiety. Incorporating trusted friends and family into this coping plan can also be helpful and effective.