Thalassophobia: definition, symptoms, characteristics, causes


Thalassophobia is an intense fear of deep bodies of water. People with thalassophobia experience a sudden onset of anxiety when exposed to triggering stimuli, which can include deep pools, the ocean, or lakes.

Everyone experiences thalassophobia differently. Some people may panic when swimming in deep water, in a boat, or not being able to touch the bottom of a pool. Others experience fear simply by thinking of the ocean or looking at images of deep water.

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Thalassophobia, often referred to as "fear of the ocean," is a specific phobia that involves an intense fear of deep water. Thalassophobia is a specific phobia and is therefore classified as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

People with certain phobias experience intense fear caused by a certain stimulus that is out of proportion to the situation and causes significant stress or aggravation.

If left untreated, thalassophobia can severely limit a person's life. A person with thalassophobia may feel increased anxiety and stop participating in activities that they once loved, such as going to the beach with friends and family, boating, swimming, watching certain movies, and more.


Thalassophobia shares symptoms with other specific phobias such as claustrophobia . The distinctive feature of thalassophobia compared to other specific phobias and anxiety disorders is that these symptoms are caused by exposure to deep bodies of water.

Symptoms of thalassophobia can include:

  • Sudden onset of anxiety or fear.
  • Shaking and shaking
  • Perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • Palpitations or heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing, including hyperventilation .
  • Chest pain
  • Fear of losing control or dying.

Thalassophobia triggers

Triggers for thalassophobia can include:

  • Ocean
  • Pools
  • Lakes
  • Boat tour
  • Swimming
  • Photos deep water
  • Inability to touch the bottom in the water.
  • Deep sea movies like Jaws .

Compared to many other specific phobias, thalassophobia can be dangerous. With a panic reaction in deep water, there is a risk of drowning .

It is worth remembering that what is dangerous here is your panic reaction, not the water itself. If you know you have untreated thalassophobia, swimming with another person or in front of a lifeguard can also help.


Specific phobias, such as thalassophobia, can be diagnosed by your doctor or psychiatrist, such as a psychiatrist. The diagnosis usually involves several questions about the specific fear, avoidance behavior, persistence of fear, and any life limitations that arise as a result of this fear.

To meet the DSM-5 criteria for a specific phobia, a person must demonstrate:

  • Unreasonable, excessive or disproportionate fear of certain stimuli ; In the case of thalassophobia, it will be the fear of deep water.
  • Constant and immediate alarm response when exposed to fearful stimuli (deep water)
  • Avoid feared stimuli (deep water)
  • Persistence of fear for at least six months.
  • Clinically significant distress or impairment of life due to anxiety and avoidance behavior

In previous editions of DSM, the person also had to show that they understood that their fear was irrational or out of proportion to the situation.

Since 2013, a person no longer needs to understand that their fear is irrational. Consequently, a person who has a deep fear of deep water may think that his reaction is justified and reasonable, even if it limits life activity or causes significant suffering.


The causes of specific phobias, including thalassophobia, are not fully understood and may differ from case to case. Specific phobias, such as thalassophobia, are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.


Research shows that certain genes are associated with certain specific phobias, but there are no studies yet examining the genetics of thalassophobia. However, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, it is still considered a genetic factor in phobias such as thalassophobia .

Our ancestors feared deep water bodies, and it is likely that those who feared deep water could have lived longer to pass on their genes. This theory is supported by research showing that certain phobias are moderately inherited, although the exact percentage can vary. For example , it has been found that for certain phobias in animals, the heritability is approximately 45%.

Traumatic events

Thalassophobia can also be triggered by traumatic events. Childhood experiences of near drowning, witnessing a shark attack, never learning to swim, or even hearing scary stories about the ocean are just a few examples of possible events that can trigger thalassophobia.

By linking a specific situation, for example being in great depth, with a panic reaction, a phobia of this situation can develop over time.

Watch out

Phobias, like thalassophobia, are chronic conditions that can worsen over time and limit relationships and activities. They also respond well to treatment, although treatment is not always pleasant.

Unfortunately, only about 10-25% of people with a certain phobia end up seeking treatment. This is likely due to avoidance behavior, because treating a particular phobia often requires countering fear stimuli.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a popular and effective option for treating certain phobias, including fear of the sea. During exposure therapy, a person is exposed to their fear stimuli with increasing intensity until the fear disappears.

For someone with thalassophobia, this could start with looking at photos of the sea, moving on to watching videos of the ocean or deep water, and ending with a trip to the ocean or pool.

Through controlled exposure, the person learns that the feared stimulus is not dangerous and can begin to associate it with more positive outcomes.

Both single-session and multiple-session exposure therapy can be effective in reducing the symptoms of specific phobias, although a 2008 study found that multiple sessions may be slightly more effective than one session .

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is effective in treating a variety of anxiety disorders, including certain phobias.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, a person learns to understand their own thought patterns and behavioral responses. Through this understanding, they can change maladaptive thoughts and subsequently change their behavior and feelings.

For certain phobias, such as thalassophobia, CBT is often used as an add-on treatment in addition to exposure therapy. However, some people may prefer cognitive behavioral therapy to exposure therapy because it requires less tolerance to initial stress.

Front facing

There are many reasons why people develop thalassophobia. The ocean can be a terrifying place, the epitome of the unknown and the uncontrollable.

Even swimming in a deep lake or pool without knowing what's underneath can be intimidating. This is not helped by the film industry or the media, which often tell horror stories about rare shark attacks or ship sinks.

However, sometimes a reasonable fear of deep water can get out of control. If you experience intense fear and anxiety around deep water and avoid being near the ocean or swimming pools as a result, you may have thalassophobia.

Talking to your doctor, a trusted friend, or family member can help you control your phobia. Exposure to water rather than avoiding it can also help reduce your fears, especially if done with the help of a mental health professional.

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