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Thalassophobia – 6 Signs and Overcoming It

What Is Thalassophobia?

What is Thalassophobia?  Do you find yourself getting anxious when thinking about the ocean, or bodies of water in general? If so, then you may have thalassophobia. This phobia is characterized by an intense fear of the sea and all things related to it– including anything that has to do with boats or ships.

This fear can range from mild discomfort to full-blown panic attacks.  Many people with thalassophobia find their fear is out of proportion.  They may even know that their fear is a bit irrational, and are unable to explain or control their fear.

Some people’s phobia started with a movie – Titanic and Jaws are two that often come up when people discuss where their fear started.  For others, it was a traumatic event, or perhaps a near-drowning event.  Getting knocked around by the ocean as a child did it for one anonymous poster on Reddit.

Some people find it hard to imagine thalassophobia or what it must be like.  It’s similar to a fear of heights or a fear of speaking in public.  To thalassophobes, being on a boat in the ocean is akin to standing on the edge of a very tall building (for those with fear of heights, of course).

Here are six thalassophobia triggers someone may suffer from:

1. You are afraid to go in the ocean

That’s pretty much it.  You don’t want to go more than ankle deep.  You’re just fine with two feet planted firmly on the beach.  No amount of teasing or cajoling from friends will get you to venture out, even if it’s relatively shallow or the waves are small.

2. You get nervous when you see people on boats or fishing

Are those people crazy?  You might be thinking that they’re insane for risking their life going on a boat or a fishing expedition.  How could they handle being out on the ocean for so long?  What if the boat sinks?

3. You are always worried about the risk of shark attacks in the ocean

You think surfers are insane – a shark could kill them at any moment and they won’t be able to do anything about it.  Being in the water without knowing what’s below you is frightening and under no circumstances will you put yourself in that risky situation.

4. Watching movies with scenes that take place at sea makes you uncomfortable, even if they’re just fictional films

Forget watching movies like The Abyss, Titanic, or Jaws.  Anything involving the ocean as a main factor in a movie is an automatic no from you.

a stormy sea that someone with thalassophobia may be scared of

5. When you think about being out on a boat, your heart starts to race and palms sweat

Even just the thought of being on a boat is enough to make you start having physical symptoms.  The anxiety is just too much to bear and your body starts going into fight or flight mode simply from the thought.

6. The mere sight of an aquarium terrifies you

For people with serious thalassophobia, even aquariums can bring on fear of the ocean.  Because aquariums attempt to recreate the sea or a body of water, it can bring on intense fear.

How Common Is Thalassophobia?

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 10% of Americans suffer from a specific phobia at some point in their lives. That’s about 25 million people. The most common phobias are those related to animals, heights, and enclosed spaces, but thalassophobia—the fear of the ocean—is also relatively common.  Some people may have more severe phobias than others, who may just have a healthy fear.

Thalassophobia Causes

There are a number of reasons why someone might develop thalassophobia. It could be the result of a traumatic event, such as nearly drowning or witnessing someone else drown. It could also be the result of watching a scary movie set in the ocean or hearing stories about dangerous sea creatures. In some cases, thalassophobia may just be an innate part of someone from birth.

Can You Overcome Thalassophobia?

Getting over fear of the ocean is entirely possible.  I personally was afraid of the ocean due to an incident in childhood where I thought I was drowning.  I was able to overcome this fear by slow exposure therapy – going in the ocean on small, gentle days and working my way up.  I also took proper swimming lessons and learned how to swim for distance and how to tread water for up to 30 minutes.  This gave me the confidence to learn to not fear the ocean.

If you’re suffering from thalassophobia check out our page on overcoming fear of the ocean.  If you’re having extreme symptoms, I also highly recommend consulting a licensed mental health expert to help you – it’s entirely possible to overcome phobias!

Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.

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