Thalassophobia: definition, causes, symptoms, treatment

Thalassophobia: definition, causes, symptoms, treatment

Thalassophobia is the fear of the sea. An intense fear that can disrupt the daily life of the affected person and those around them. Various solutions allow you to overcome this phobia.

Definition: what is thalassophobia or bathophobia?

The word thalassophobia comes from the ancient Greek “thalassa” meaning sea or ocean and “phobos” meaning fear. Thalassophobia is therefore an intense and persistent fear of the sea or oceans, of vast bodies of water to the point of becoming pathological. This phobia can be characterized by the fear of swimming without being able to see one’s limbs (especially one’s feet), of traveling at sea, of driving along large lakes or even of flying over the ocean in a plane. Bathophobia is often associated with thalassophobia with the nuance that it is more of a fear of the depths, whether underwater or not. This anxiety can also concern large air spaces for example, the depth of a well or even long dark corridors, etc.

What are aquaphobia and cymophobia?

Another fear close to thalassophobia: aquaphobia. This is defined by a fear of water itself, not necessarily of what happens in the depths of the seabed. Cymophobia, for its part, is another anxiety disorder linked to the sea but more specifically to waves and their movements. This phobia of waves can be noticed from a very young age but also in adulthood. Waves can be perceived as dangerous and be compared to a risk of drowning or accident.

Why do some people suffer from thalassophobia? What are the causes of sea phobia?

The causes of thalassophobia are varied. “There is no particular factor. This anxiety may depend on education, on a fear conveyed by loved ones if they repeated to be careful of the sea, that it was dangerous, that we did not know what could be under the sea. water… It can also occur following a traumatic experience that has been experienced or even heard. Certain traumas can be created through a documentary or anxiety-provoking news broadcast on TV, for example.“, notes Jessica Sotto, clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral and cognitive therapies (CBT) in Essonne.

How do you know if you have thalassophobia? What are the symptoms and effects of thalassophobia?

When the sea is mentioned or when the person suffering from thalassophobia has to go there, an intense and marked fear is felt. The more intense this fear, the more specific physical symptoms there are such as tachycardia, hyperventilation, a lump in the stomach, sweaty hands, trembling legs, a feeling of dizziness, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety attack etc.

Thalassophobia, like other phobias, is also characterized by avoidance strategies. The thalassophobe will prefer to spend his vacations in the mountains rather than by the sea, will refuse to go on a cruise even if the rest of the family goes, will not swim, etc.

In the event of feelings of anxiety about the sea or oceans, treatment consists above all of being diagnosed. “It is important that this is established because clearly naming this phobia allows us to better confront it.“, explains Jessica Sotto. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5-TR), it is a specific phobia when:

  • The fear persists for at least 6 months;
  • The situation always triggers immediate anxiety;
  • The patient avoids the situation or object;
  • The fear is disproportionate to the actual danger;
  • Fear and/or avoidance causes significant distress that impairs social or occupational functioning.

How to combat and treat your fear of the seabed and oceans?

There is no specific treatment to treat thalassophobia, the solutions are the same as to treat any phobia (agoraphobia, claustrophobia, etc.).

How to overcome thalassophobia using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?

If thalassophobia has repercussions on daily life and poses a real problem, it is possible to seek help from a mental health professional specializing in behavioral and cognitive therapies, for example. This therapy is based on three stages. At the cognitive level, it involves identifying dysfunctional thoughts and restructuring them. “The person must thus be able to criticize their own thoughts by adding something factual and rational, by decentering themselves, for example, to find these arguments. If she thinks that while swimming, a shark might attack her, she must ask herself if this thought is dysfunctional. It is a place authorized for swimming, supervised. There was no danger reported etc. It helps to detach yourself from this dysfunctional thinking“, explains the psychologist.

The second stage concerns the emotional aspect, the acceptance of emotions. “The more the person with thalassophobia fights against an emotion, the more it becomes resistant and anchors itself. It’s about not denying your emotions and accepting to be afraid“, help Jessica Sotto.

The last step targets the behavioral level and involves exposure to the feared element. You have to go there gradually, step by step. The person can start by exposing themselves through visualization by imagining themselves at the sea. They can then go to the beach without putting their feet in the water, then the next time, put them in the sea with someone next to her…”When we expose ourselves, the phobia rises high, it’s not pleasant but it will eventually come down because an emotion is ephemeral and not dangerous. At the second exposure, the phobia will increase but less high and will come back down. And so on until there is no anxiety at all.“, summarizes the psychologist. This evolution will be more or less rapid depending on the intensity of the phobia.

Other solutions to treat thalassophobia

Other therapeutic approaches can relieve the symptoms of thalassophobia. Thus, hypnotherapy, sophrology, yoga and relaxation techniques using abdominal breathing, among others, can prove useful. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRT) is another answer to this phobia. For the thalassophobic person, this involves confronting, with the help of a helmet, situations that are feared because they represent potential dangers for them.

These various solutions should help the person suffering from thalassophobia to overcome their anxiety in the long term.