As numerous documentaries confirm, found canyons, underwater cities and coastal communities are evidence of the power of water and the destruction it can do. Water is home to some of the most beautiful and strangest creatures found on Earth and provides many health benefits to those living nearby. Despite all this, there are those who experience fear, anxiety, and even nausea in response to large bodies of water, especially the ocean. And it is considered by many to be unreasonable for these individuals to have thalassophobia or fear the sea.
What is Thalassophobia?
Thalassophobia is a special type of phobia that involves constant and intense fear of deep water bodies such as the ocean or sea. Where water phobia includes a fear of water, thalassophobia focuses on water bodies that appear vast, dark, deep and dangerous. People are more afraid of what lurks underwater rather than water. Although not considered a separate disorder by the DSM-5, the diagnostic guide for mental disorders used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, the symptoms of this phobia may fall within the diagnostic criteria for certain phobias. The term thalasophobia derives from the Greek thalassa (sea) and fobos (fear). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, phobias are the most common type of mental illness. Although certain phobias are fairly common in the general population, it is unknown how many people have thalassophobia. Specific phobias fall into five different types and these are as follows:
- Animal type
- Blood injection type
- Natural environment type
- Status type
- Other types
However, thalassophobia is generally considered a natural environment type specific phobia, and natural environmental fears are one of the more common types of phobia. Some studies suggest that water-related phobias are more common among women.
Thalassophobia Causes, Triggers and Risk Factors
Like other types of phobia, it is a combination of nature and nutrition that contributes to thalassophobia. There are a number of factors that can cause this fear of the ocean and the sea, including the following:
Genetics: From the perspective of nature, evolution and genetics can play a role. It is more likely that ancestors who feared very dark and deep bodies of water will pass these fear genes, which they lived with the survival instinct, to their next generation.
Past experiences: This fear can also be learned in part from people’s experiences around the water. For example, being afraid of something while swimming can also be a possible cause of this type of fear.
Development: Observing people with deep water fears, especially parents and other adults, can also be a contributing factor. Also, there are a number of risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing a particular phobia, such as thalassophobia. Some of these factors are as follows:
• Having a family member with thalassophobia or another specific phobia
• Personality factors, such as being negative, sensitive or anxious
• Traumatic personal experiences involving deep water, large bodies of water, or ocean travel
• Hearing stories through media sources that focus on water accidents
A phobia can trigger both physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and fear. There are common physical symptoms of thalassophobia, some of which are:
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid breathing
• Shortness of breath
However, this phobia also has emotional symptoms and these are as follows:
• Being overwhelmed
• Feelings of anxiety
• feeling detached from the situation
• Have a sense of imminent doom
• needing to escape
However, you don’t necessarily need to be near water to experience symptoms. This fear response can occur when there is direct contact with the ocean or other deep water bodies, such as crossing the coast or flying over the ocean in a plane. For some people, viewing deep water, that is, looking at a photograph of water, or even an image of water bodies such as an ocean or lake, is sufficient to trigger the reaction. A phobic response is more than just feeling nervous or anxious, how it feels and reacts to something dangerous can worry people. This is why the body experiences a sudden and intense start of the fight or flight response, a series of reactions that prepare to stay, deal with threat, or escape from danger. A person with thalassophobia will experience the same reaction even if the reaction is out of proportion to the real danger. In addition to these physical symptoms when confronted with deep water, people try hard to avoid being near the water or having to look at large bodies of water. They may also experience anticipation anxiety when they know they will encounter the object of their fear, such as feeling overly nervous and forms of water travel before boarding a ferry.
People who suspect they may have thalassophobia have a few things they can do. An informal online test can give an indication that you have this type of phobia. This type of internet-based home testing involves looking at potentially triggering images or taking a test to determine the extent and severity of symptoms. However, for a more formal diagnosis, it is necessary to go to a healthcare professional such as a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. While there is no formal test or assessment to diagnose this phobia, it is likely by evaluating symptoms and investigating possible underlying medical factors. Only once the medical and symptom history are understood, a specific phobia can be formally diagnosed. There are some factors for diagnosing a particular phobia according to the DSM-5, and these are:
• When fear of deep water is persistent, excessive and irrational
• Whenever this fear is felt every time deep or open water is exposed
• When it is realized that the fear is disproportionate to real dangers
• Either the ocean or other waters are avoided or endured by intense fear
• When fear of large water bodies interferes with normal daily functioning
• When available for six months or more
• When the fear cannot be better explained by another disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is no research specifically on the treatment of thalassophobia, but it is assumed that similar results will be experienced with the results of other phobias. Studies show that exposure-based behavioral therapy treatments are particularly effective in reducing the symptoms of certain phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy and systematic desensitization, other forms of behavioral therapy, are also effective for phobias. Studies have found that not all treatments have the same effectiveness for different subtypes of certain phobias. For example, in vivo exposure (which includes exposure to a real-life horror object) is effective for all species but also has high release rates and poor treatment acceptance. Research suggests that in vivo exposure is more effective than imagined exposure, but a published study found that virtual exposure is as effective as real-world exposure. Of course, it’s not always possible to be exposed to an object of fear if it involves something particularly dangerous or impossible in real life. In the case of thalassophobia, live exposure to open water may be most effective, but if this is not possible, imaginary exposure may provide some benefits. However, treatment can sometimes involve a range of different strategies, such as gradual exposure, systematic desensitization, cognitive restructuring and relaxation techniques.
Although thalassophobia may seem like a strange fear to some, it makes life difficult for those who struggle with it. Some complications can ultimately affect many different areas of a person’s life. These complications are as follows:
Panic attacks: Panic attacks can include chest pain, unreal emotions, a sense of drowning numbness, and fear of death, but are also characterized by fear, sudden and intense emotions accompanied by physical symptoms.
Loneliness and social isolation: Anxiety symptoms and fear of having panic attacks can sometimes cause people to avoid situations where they can come into contact with fear objects.
Depression: Studies have shown that people with certain phobias sometimes experience mood swings or symptoms of depression.
Substance abuse: People can sometimes treat anxiety symptoms on their own with alcohol and other substances.
While genetic and evolutionary factors may play a role in the onset of certain phobias such as thalassophobia, there are steps people can take to help prevent the development of such fears. Because it is often triggered by a certain stress or traumatic experience, how such experiences are handled can play an important role in whether a phobia eventually arises or not. There are some steps you can take to minimize the risk of developing thalassophobia and these are as follows:
Getting help early: People who suspect that they are developing a serious fear of deep or open waters should seek ways to cope with their anxiety as soon as possible. This may include talking with a mental health professional about what they can do to alleviate their fears.
Modeling desired behaviors: Children can learn phobic responses from parents, so those with deep and dark water fears can also inherit these worries. Seeing certain things and situations being responded to with fear can cause the child to develop the same fear response. They can help prevent this by confronting their own fears positively and modeling the carefree behavior around their child.
Tips for Coping With Thalassophobia
Dealing with thalassophobia can be difficult, but there are strategies that can be done to deal with and alleviate fears. These strategies are as follows:
Relaxation strategies: When a person finds themselves experiencing fear-related symptoms in response to water or even the thought of water, they should use techniques to calm their mind and body. These techniques are as follows:
• Deep breath
• Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
• However, the more these techniques are applied, the better they can control their symptoms in the face of their fears.
Self exposure: Although the best treatment is often under the guidance of a therapist, a self-help approach can also be used to face fears. One should start by visualizing himself near a deep body of water, then use his relaxation techniques to calm it down. The treatment he started with images can gradually expose himself to the source of his fears with smaller water bodies, eventually lake, ocean or sea. He should use relaxation methods each time to alleviate his fear response. This way, over time, he can overcome fears and reach a calmer state of mind.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with thalassophobia is to be kind to the person. Specific phobias are quite common, so although not everyone shares this exact fear, many people may have developed it and are experiencing such great feelings of anxiety.