Aquaphobia is an abnormal, irrational, and intense fear of water. In some people, the fear can persist even when no real threat of danger exists.
Aquaphobia (fear of water) differs in intensity from normal fears of water such as in an ocean or lake. The high degree of intensity of the fear and the irrationality behind it is what earned it its classification as a phobia.
Aquaphobia is a common phobia that can be triggered when a person is exposed to water or when they think of it. This phobia is different from fears felt due to generalized anxiety. It is a specific phobia because the fear is specifically triggered by water. Other specific phobias include a fear of heights or animals.
The fear of water varies in degree from one person to another. It includes the fear of oceans, lakes, waterways, swimming pools, and water in a bathtub or shower. Some people may dread contact with one or several sources of water. Others may be able to tolerate shallow water where their feet can touch the ground but will experience anxiety and panic attacks in deeper water.
Chronic aquaphobia can occur in some people to such a degree that mere thoughts, sprinkles or splashes of water can trigger the phobia. They are more likely to avoid taking baths or showers or avoid contact with water altogether. The intense fear of taking a bath, or ablutophobia, is linked to aquaphobia. Not taking baths can affect hygiene, health, cause embarrassment, and even impact an aquaphobe’s self-esteem.
The symptoms of aquaphobia manifest similarly to those in people who suffer from severe anxiety or panic attacks. A person may experience several of the symptoms, but not necessarily all of them at the same time. The type of symptom also varies from person to person, but the more severe the phobia the more severe the symptoms are likely to be. Here are some common symptoms:
Phobias, including aquaphobia, are deep-seated fears that occupy the subconscious. They are not mental illnesses or disorders nor are they caused by similar reasons. Many phobias, such as aquaphobia, are generally caused by social experiences which left an imprint of chronic fear. The following factors are known to influence the development of aquaphobia:
Traumatic Experience: It is a general belief that most people who suffer from aquaphobia encountered a bad experience in the past that related to water. It could have been a near-drowning experience, they saw someone drowned or knew someone who died by drowning. A sudden and frightening exposure to water, such as falling into a river or being in a boat that capsized, are other possible sources of aquaphobia.
Genetics: A person’s genes are inherited and play a significant role in their life in some way or other. Phobics whose parents also have or had a fear of water may be more at risk of developing aquaphobia.
Environment: Adults who have aquaphobia could have learned to fear water because parents or parental figures may have instilled that fear in them. For example, a parent may consistently caution a child to avoid swimming or risk death by drowning. In addition, the fear could have developed from seeing adults show an intense aversion to water.
An aquaphobe may be aware of the irrationality of the fear but is incapable of ridding themselves of it. This is why treatment is an important step in helping people with water phobia manage and overcome their fear. Some common treatments include the following. The choice of treatment depends on the accessibility of treatment, the severity of the fear, and the willingness to undergo treatment.
Exposure Therapy: This method of treatment is a part of psychotherapy and can be used in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It involves techniques that help clients to first face the fear and then desensitize their feelings and reactions. It could include gradually exposing you to water in a bathtub, for example. This allows them to gradually become less sensitive or fearful of water and reduce or eliminate the accompanying symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: One of the most common treatments for phobias, including aquaphobia, is cognitive behavioral therapy. It helps uncover the underlying cause of the phobia and teaches coping skills that help change behavioral responses. Techniques involve retraining the mind to positively react to the stimuli that produce the fear.
Hypnotherapy: Some patients turn to clinical hypnotherapy to eliminate the fear of water. Hypnosis involves helping the patient uncover and confront their fear while being in a naturally calm and sedated state of mind. The patient is kept conscious throughout the session and is able to interact with the therapist about their thoughts and feeling when exposed to the fear via hypnosis.
Medication: Aquaphobia is not a mental illness or disorder. Therefore, it cannot be specifically treated with medication. However, medications are generally used to treat the symptoms related to anxiety. Aquaphobia-induced panic attacks may be treated with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors). This only helps to calm a person down and does not eliminate the phobia.
Other forms of treatments such as group therapy can be used. Some people find online videos, self-help books or other written material helpful in educating them on aquaphobia. The awareness of the condition and the symptoms may bring temporary, superficial relief. However, clinical treatment such as CBT, exposure therapy, and hypnotherapy have proven to be far more effective.
Generally, phobias cannot be prevented except through conscious parenting where parents avoid instilling fears in children about objects, animals, or situations. They can also desensitize any growing fear that naturally manifests in the child concerning water. Keeping children safe around water, such as a lake or swimming pool, can reduce the chance of a negative or traumatic experience with water that can affect them in adulthood.
Once treated for aquaphobia, an individual can prevent recurrence of the fear by practicing mindfulness techniques they may learn in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. Mindfulness is a useful technique for reducing anxiety symptoms.