At the first sign of summer, most people have already booked their flights and are planning their vacation to the beach. To many people, the idea of visiting a beach or lake is the perfect getaway trip. To you, it sounds like the worst idea on the planet. Not only are you absolutely terrified to even go near the ocean, or any large body of water for that matter, you experience crippling anxiety just thinking about the ocean. Not only does this impact your everyday life, but it can also cause strain on your social life and ability to enjoy a relaxing vacation without constant worries and fears.
If you did not already know, this phobia or mental disorder is referred to as thalassophobia that is a form of anxiety disorder. It means having an intense fear of the ocean, or any large body of water. This is not the same as aquaphobia, which is the intense fear of water. Rather, it is an irrational fear of the sea and it is also a legitimate phobia, which may require professional psychological or psychiatric treatment to help you with your mental disorder.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Thalassophobia?
Just as with any typical phobia, a person with thalassophobia may experience a variety of symptoms linked to anxiety. It can occur when you are merely thinking of the ocean. Due to your extreme fear of the deep water, you are afraid of lakes, rivers, or anything where the water is deep and filled with the unknown. When you are fixated on these thoughts, you may experience a racing heartbeat, beads of sweat, have issues going to sleep at night, or even struggle with severe panic attacks. Just one look at the ocean could cause you to spiral into shortness of breath, rapid breathing, dizziness, nausea, or feeling faint. You may also have an inner “fight or flight” urge, where you feel the need to escape from the imminent dangers of large bodies of water.
Even though you may not find yourself near the ocean, just reading or hearing the word can trigger your anxiety and even have panic attacks on extreme cases. For people who do not have a fear of the ocean, they may only think about it when it is time to go swimming or take a boat ride. However, for someone who lives with this phobia, oceans and lakes are everywhere from movies to plane rides, to crossing bridges. It is a phobia that can be quite difficult to escape. If you are someone who struggles with these fears, you are not alone and you can find psychological help for coping with this phobia.
What Causes Fears Towards the Ocean?
While an exact cause of your oceanic fears may not pinpoint towards one exact origin, there are several factors that can hold responsibility. Most causes relate to past experiences, while others are merely part of your development or DNA. Below is a list of some common experiential and environmental factors which can contribute to fear of the sea or Thalassophobia:
-If you have experienced any negative trauma in your life revolving around large bodies of water, this could be a reasonable cause. Some examples are near-drowning experiences, traumatic events where you or a loved one were severely hurt in the water, or witnessing a horrible accident involving a sea creature.
-If you were exposed to tragic news on TV involving the ocean, it could have created initial feelings that led to the phobia.
-If someone you grew up around expressed fears of the ocean, this may have impacted your thinking from a young and vulnerable age.
There is also a chance that some of the following instances of brain development or genetic makeup might play a key part in your fear:
-Everyone’s brain has a fear-response portion. If this area is not fully developed, your brain is more susceptible to fall victim to long-term phobias.
-Your genetic DNA is a valid cause for this phobia as well. If you have family members living with the same extreme fear of the deep water, chances are, you may have it as well. This could also be linked back to our primal days where people avoided large, deep bodies of water in order to stay alive.
If reading through this list resonates with you, the last thing you should feel is helpless. While some of these factors might seem ingrained within you, they are not impossible to diagnose, treat and overcome.
There are informal and formal ways to find out if you might have a specific phobia or anxiety disorder. You can gauge the severity of your phobia by taking a variety of quizzes on the internet that will confirm if your intuition is correct. However, be sure to approach this option with caution, as it can cause you to view and think about triggering ideas of the ocean. A more rigorous and in-depth assessment can be provided by a professional and licensed doctor. They will assess whether or not this is the only phobia or condition with which you struggle, or if there are any underlying issues needing medical attention. A few key factors your doctor will assess are listed below:
-You possess an ongoing fear of the sea or deep body of water that has been present for longer than half a year.
-You feel an imminent fear of doom once exposed to the ocean and experience the desire to escape.
-You avoid lakes, rivers, beaches, and oceans altogether.
-You are terrified of deep water and refuse exposure to images, sounds, thoughts, or being touched by the ocean.
How Can I Overcome This Fear?
Treating and ultimately overcoming your fear of deep water may take some patience, intensive therapy, and time, but it can be done! There are a number of organizations and treatments which specialize in helping people recognize and treat their phobias.
-One of the most recognized and effective forms of treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where you are provided with exercises and coping techniques that help you replace harmful behaviors with positive thoughts, so your fear response doesn’t overreact as it’s currently doing. During these times you can consider online therapy and use the extra time to practice this.
-Exposure therapy is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It works with gradual exposure to the fear in a way that creates a feeling of safety in the mind over time.
-This article on a 5 step process on how to stop a panic attack can be very useful since the concept is based on CBT.
-There are some ongoing trials such as virtual reality therapy that are proving beneficial in helping patients overcome phobias, but additional research is required.
Living with thalassophobia does not necessarily mean you have to do it alone. While you may feel helpless or anxious about your situation, there are a number of seasoned professionals and support groups out there who are ready to help you cope and gain back control of your life.
Remember that there is no real threat, so if you practice and work on how you react to these situations that make you highly anxious and afraid, then your fear response will stop overreacting as it is now.