Thalassophobia (fear of the ocean) is a fear which primarily deals with the ocean and any activity involving the ocean. It is not as uncommon as one might expect.
“Thalassophobia” is a term that is most often used to define an intense, persistent, and pervasive fear of the ocean and the sea. Many times, however, the term is also used to describe the fear of any deep and dark body of water. Like other phobias, thalassophobia is a fear that is triggered by a particular stimulus. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that we do not often hear the term used, thalassophobia is a surprisingly common phobia.
Thalassophobia should not be mistaken with aquaphobia, which is a fear of water in general. Nor should it be mistaken with hydrophobia, which refers to a fear of water that develops in an individual during the late stage of a rabies infection. Thalassophobia is both particular and complex in that sufferers of this phobia are afraid not merely of water, but of what deep and large bodies of water may encompass, embody, and harbor: the unknown. Those who suffer from thalassophobia are not afraid of the water; they are afraid of what dwells in it and what may lay beyond it. For example, a sufferer of thalassophobia may fear the concept of an “abyss”, the possibility of an encounter with dangerous sea creatures, or simply darkness, the inability to see what lurks beneath the water. Individuals suffering from thalassophobia may also fear distance from solid land, or large, destructive waves.
Like similar phobias, there is no singular specific cause of thalassophobia. Instead, thalassophobia may be caused by various factors–particularly when an individual is predisposed to anxiety disorder, or other mental and emotional disorders.
Thalassophobia may be caused by a scary, violent, or traumatic experience in the ocean, especially if the incident occurred or occurs during childhood. In many causes, the fear may be caused by films which feature traumatic ocean-related accidents, such as Jaws or Titanic, especially when such films are viewed during childhood. It may also be the result of caregivers and parents unknowingly giving input, advice, or conversation to children which encourages a fear of the ocean or of deep water. While many children will remain unaffected by such input, children that are particularly sensitive to language may internalize this input and learn to develop a phobia of deep, dark water.
More rarely, fear of the ocean may be connected to a disease involving the thyroid gland, a hormonal imbalance, or adrenal insufficiencies. When these issues are treated, the phobia is likely to resolve itself, too.
However, it is important to keep in mind that extremely mild thalassophobia is a rather primordial fear; humans are naturally and instinctively afraid of the unknown, and very slight apprehension when swimming in or interacting with deep, dark bodies of water is not uncommon.
Symptoms include shaking, sweating, nausea, and vomiting when exposed to the stimulus–in this case, the ocean, or any other deep, dark, and expansive body of water. Depending upon severity of the individual’s phobia, symptoms will vary. Mild thalassophobia is not uncommon and will likely not appear out-of-the-ordinary or attention-grabbing. An individual suffering from mild thalassophobia may experience a mild sense of apprehension or nervousness when approaching the ocean, the sea, or a similarly deep and large body of water. They may find it difficult to watch movies or television which features sinking ships, boat collisions, or shark attacks. They may tolerate being at the beach, but they will likely feel very apprehensive about entering the water.
On the other hand, an individual suffering from severe thalassophobia may be so paralyzed by their fear that they experience acute physiological distress. They may find it absolutely unbearable to not only directly face the stimulus, but look at an image of the ocean. They may refuse to fly over the ocean, or become extremely anxious when doing so. When directly exposed to the stimulus, they may vomit, faint, sweat profusely, shake, or tremble.
The treatment of thalassophobia is neither easy nor simple, and will differ from individual to individual depending upon the specifics of their thalassophobia. The most common method of treatment for thalassophobia is exposure therapy. This particular method of treatment has proven to be extremely effective an involves interacting with and experiencing the stimulus (in this case, the ocean) in small and safe doses. Exposure therapy acclimates the patient to their phobia in a safe and secure environment. Eventually, the patient will lose their negative associations with the stimulus. If a traumatic experience has led to the individual’s development of thalassophobia, the exposure therapy may involve additionally working through the trauma.
For individuals with a severe case of thalassophobia, the prospect of exposure therapy can feel and seem overwhelming and intimidating; it may trigger anxiety and stress in the individual, due to the very prospect of dealing with their fear of the ocean. It may be necessary to attend standard psychotherapy sessions prior to the exposure therapy. CBT, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, is a particular type of therapy that helps to alter destructive, unhealthy, and unhelpful thought patterns. CBT helps train individuals to gain a sense of mastery over their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, and to differentiate between the three. For individuals with more than just one phobia, this may prove to be a very effective option.
Hypnotherapy is an alternative method of treatment for fear of the ocean. The best results occur when it is used as a complement to psychotherapy. Hypnotherapy involves a trained mental health practitioner guiding an individual into a deeply relaxed state. In such a state, the therapist is better able to connect with the patient and discuss the root cause of their thalassophobia. Over time, hypnotherapy can help a phobic individual change their response – one of fear and negative association – to a stimulus. Eventually, they will no longer feel anxiety over the ocean. Please note, however, that hypnosis may not be a suitable option for individuals with a history of psychosis.
In severe cases of thalassophobia, medication may be necessary in order to participate in psychotherapy, particularly exposure therapy. Medication will help to reduce any physiological symptoms–such as shaking, trembling, or fainting–an individual gets when confronting or facing the stimulus. However, because of the efficacy of psychotherapy, medications should be approached as a short-term solution.
There is no known method of prevention against thalassophobia. When it comes to this particular phobia, the best method of prevention is early treatment. For individuals predisposed to developing anxiety and/or other similar disorders, taking steps to prevent and mitigate anxiety in other areas of the person’s life may help to prevent a pervasive phobia of the sea.
For parents or caregivers, numerous steps may be taken to prevent the development of thalassophobia in children. Parents and caregivers should avoid exposing children to visual content which depict violent or traumatic events occurring in the ocean, the sea, or any other large and deep body of water. Teaching children to swim may greatly help to prevent thalassophobia. Encouraging a positive and healthy perception of the ocean may do wonders to aid in the prevention of thalassophobia.