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Do you have an extremely strong fear of the sea or large bodies of water that affects the way you live? You may suffer from thalassophobia. Here we look at what it is and the treatment available.

What is thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia is an intense and often irrational fear of the sea or large bodies of water. This fear can range from the sea itself to its depth, waves, distance from land and the unknown creatures that may be below the surface.

People with thalassophobia may experience anxiety at the thought of being in or near large bodies of water, and even pictures or movies depicting the sea can trigger anxiety reactions. It is a treatable condition and help is available.

Why do people get thalassophobia?

The causes of thalassophobia are often a combination of several factors. Past negative experiences with water, such as near drowning or other traumatic events, can play a major role in its development.

Observing fear or anxiety of the sea in parents or relatives can also contribute to a person developing thalassophobia, as the fear can be learned through observation. For some, the underlying cause may be linked to biological or genetic factors that make them more prone to anxiety disorders in general. In addition, media depictions of the sea as a dangerous and unknown place can reinforce and create a deeper fear.

A fascination with the unknown and the potential dangers lurking beneath the surface, such as sea creatures or being stranded far from land, can also contribute to the development of thalassophobia. This phobia is complex and each person’s experience is unique, meaning that the causes of thalassophobia can vary between individuals.

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How common are phobias?

Phobias affect about 10 million people in the UK so they are a fairly common anxiety disorder. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘phobia of holes’ (trypophobia).

Symptoms of thalassophobia

The symptoms of thalassophobia can manifest themselves both physically and emotionally, affecting the individual in different ways. People suffering from this phobia may experience:

  • Intense anxiety or panic when thinking about the sea, seeing the sea, or when in or near large bodies of water. This anxiety can also be triggered by thinking about swimming or sailing.
  • Physical symptoms common to anxiety reactions, including heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, and sometimes dizziness or nausea. In some cases, these symptoms can escalate to a full-blown panic attack.
  • Avoidance behaviour, where the individual actively avoids situations involving the sea or large bodies of water. This may involve avoiding travel to coastal areas, swimming, or participating in water-based activities.
  • Feelings of helplessness or powerlessness when thinking about or being confronted with the sea, which can affect the individual’s quality of life and limit their ability to engage in certain activities or travel.
  • Excessive fear of drowning or of what might be under the water surface, even if the risk is objectively low or the situation is controlled.

These symptoms can be particularly pronounced when there is no obvious danger, which is a sign that the fear is irrational, a characteristic of phobias. The symptoms can vary in severity from mild to severe problems. Thalassophobia can lead to significant stress and anxiety, which can affect social life, relationships and everyday functions.


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How can thalassophobia be treated?

Treatment for thalassophobia focuses on processing anxiety and managing the phobia effectively. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure therapy are key methods. CBT helps to challenge negative thoughts about the sea and exposure therapy gradually acclimating the individual to water through controlled situations.

Relaxation techniques and mindfulness can be used to manage anxiety in the moment. Medication can be considered for severe anxiety. Self-help and can provide additional support. Professional help is essential to create a customised treatment plan and effectively overcome the fear of the sea.


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12 common questions about thalassophobia

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. Phobias affect about 10 million people in the UK so they are a fairly common anxiety disorder.

What is thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia is an intense and often irrational fear of the sea or large bodies of water. This fear can include everything from the sea itself to its depth, waves, distance from land and the unknown creatures that may be below the surface.

What causes thalassophobia?

The causes of thalassophobia are often a combination of genetic factors, personal experiences (such as trauma or drowning risk), and environmental influences.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or therapist.

How does treatment work?

Treatment can vary but often involves CBT which challenges negative thought patterns, and exposure therapy to gradually acclimate the individual to water, or medication if necessary.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

Yes, untreated phobias can lead to other problems such as depression or other anxiety disorders if many things related to the phobia are avoided.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works with thoughts, feelings and behaviours in different situations to improve quality of life and overcome certain symptoms.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of in a systematic and safe way together with a psychologist or therapist.

I have started to avoid things because I am afraid of the sea, what can I do?

If you have a fear of the sea or large bodies of water that affects or limits your life, you can seek treatment. There is effective help available.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. Book an initial session with one of Lavendla’s therapists. We make the difficult easier.

Treating thalassophobia with CBT

Treatment can be overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available and here is an idea of what treatment might look like:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand that you have a phobia and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation and understand what is causing your fear. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your phobia and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what happens in your body, thoughts and feelings when the fear occurs. Goals are also set for treatment.

Tools to change behaviours and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear, helping you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. Together with your therapist, you will explore situations that trigger your phobia and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Medication (if needed)

In some cases, doctors may suggest medication to help with anxiety symptoms. This is something you and your doctor can discuss if appropriate.

Follow-up and evaluation of progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.