Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
December 29, 2023 ·  4 min read

Thalassophobia Is A 100% Real And Terrifying Thing And You Just Might Have It

Does a day down by the ocean fill you with anxiety? Do you cringe at the thought of spending a week on a cruise ship in the middle of the sea? Is The Titanic the most terrifying movie you’ve ever seen?

If you answered yes to these questions, you could have Thalassophobia.

What is Thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia is a long word to describe the fear of the ocean [1]. This includes a fear of deep water, traveling on water, and the animals and organisms that live below the ocean’s surface [2].

For some people, this fear could be very small and easy to overcome. For others, however, it could have a very real and negative impact on their lives.

What is the Difference Between a Fear and a Phobia?

Having some fear of the ocean is actually healthy- a small amount of trepidation will force you to exercise caution at the beach, when you’re swimming, and when you’re on a boat. After all, the ocean is vast and there are some dangers to be aware of.

The difference here is that your fear of the ocean doesn’t paralyze you. Sure, your heart might race a bit when your boat starts rocking back and forth, and some seaweed brushing against your leg might send shivers down your spine, but these are just emotional responses to an object or event that you move on from relatively quickly [2]. 

In order for fear to be classified as a phobia, it has to cause some level of physical or psychological impairment [3].

“Phobias involve the experience of persistent fear that is excessive and unreasonable,” says R. Reid Wilson, Ph.D., spokesman for the American Psychological Association [3].

For some, even simply the anticipation of fear can paralyze them.

“Phobias are cued when a person approaches a particular situation or object or even anticipates the approach of it, and they understand the fear they will experience as a result of that situation will be unreasonable and excessive,” explains Wilson [3].

How Do You Know if You Have Thalassophobia?

If you’re unsure whether or not you have thalassophobia, ask yourself these questions:

When you think about the ocean do you experience:

  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Worrying more than usual
  • Trouble falling and staying asleep
  • Panic and anxiety attacks  [1]

If your fear of water is preventing you from participating in events with friends and family, or if it consumes your mind on a regular basis, you probably have thalassophobia [2].

Read: Effects of Anxiety on the Body

What Causes Thalassophobia?

The truth is, no one really knows why people develop phobias, but there are a few factors that could contribute to them.

“There are nature and nurture components to phobias,” says Kathy Hoganbruen, Ph.D., National Mental Health Association spokesperson [3].

Genetics could be one reason why you might develop a phobia. For example, if you have a relative who has a fear of the ocean, your risk for having thalassophobia will be higher [1]. 

Environmental factors, such as hearing about a traumatic event like drowning, or experiencing or witnessing one yourself could cause you to develop thalassophobia [1]. The fear of flying, for example, became much more common after the 9/11 attacks in New York [3].

For some people, there could be a developmental reason behind their phobia. If the fear-response area of your brain has not properly developed, you are more likely to develop strong fears like thalassophobia [1].

How Do You Get Over Thalassophobia?

If you do have thalassophobia, know that you are not alone, and you can move forward from it. The first step is finding support. A great place to look is on Reddit, where there are thousands of other like-minded people who are working through the same fear [2]. 

In these forums, people support each other, but also push each other by posting images and videos that will scare you from the safety of your computer [2]. This is a great place to start since imagined exposure can help you confront your fear in a more gradual way [4]. 

The most effective way to move past your fear, of course, is to face it in person. This is known as “in vivo” exposure and is the next step after imagined exposure, once you’re ready [4].

If you’re afraid of swimming in deep water, signing up for swimming classes could be a way to expose yourself to your fear. If it’s the undersea creatures that scare you, try heading to an aquarium to see them [4]. Once you’ve exposed yourself to your fears, it’s amazing how quickly you can conquer them.

Call a Professional

If you are still struggling, you should seek out the help of a professional therapist, who can take you through talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the idea that anticipation of the event in question is often worse than the event itself. A therapist can use CBT to help you transform negative thoughts into positive ones, which can lessen your fear when you encounter it in real life [1,2].  

Thalassophobia, for many people, is a very real and paralyzing fear. If you are suffering from thalassophobia, we encourage you to seek help so that you do not have to continue to miss out on activities and events with your loved ones, and so that fear will no longer rule your life.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.