Thalassophobia: The Fear of Deep Water, Causes, & Meaning

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Thalassophobia is a pretty big mouthful.

And unless you speak Greek, there’s a good chance that it makes absolutely no sense and looks like a keyboard face-plant.

Sure, it’s a phobia, but of what? Lassos? Halos?

It’s not immediately obvious, but that’s what this guide is for!

If you’re new to thalassophobia and think that you may have it, or that a loved one may have it, keep reading.

What is Thalassophobia?

Firstly, let’s cover the basics: What is thalassophobia?

In simple terms, it’s an intense fear of the sea and/or ocean, or rather, an intense fear of deep water and/or deep bodies of water.

The aforementioned “Greek connection” is because the word comes from the Greek Θάλασσα (or “thalassa” in Latin characters) and φόβος (“phobos”), which literally means “fear of the sea”.

The history and geography buffs among you may recognize the word “Thalassocracy”, which is used to denote an “empire of the sea” (like the Greeks themselves) and literally means “Sea Power” in Greek.

How to Pronounce Thalassophobia?

Although the word thalassophobia looks a little alien to English eyes, the fear of pronouncing thalassophobia should not out weigh one’s fear of deep water … If you had to rank the fears against one another.

When it comes down to it, thalassophobia is actually quite easy to pronounce.

It goes something like this:

The “Tha” is pronounced as in “thank” and not “that”.

Usually, the original Greek is very different from the English, but in this case, it’s actually very similar.

The only difference is that the Greeks emphasize the “i” and not the “o” in “Phobia”.

An Intense Fear Of Deep Water

As noted above, thalassophobia is defined as “an intense fear of deep water or deep bodies of water”.

Individuals with thalassophobia experience extreme emotional and physical reactions when exposed to the sea and even when faced with the possibility that they might need to take a boat ride or go to the beach.

As with all phobias, thalassophobia is mostly an irrational fear, because while there certainly are risk factors associated with deep bodies of water (drowning, shark attacks, shipwrecks) they are low and are rarely the source of the problem.

For instance, someone with thalassophobia knows that they’re not going to drown standing by the shore, and they have a pretty good idea that there are no sharks about, but that doesn’t stop the anxiety from taking over.

What Causes Thalassophobia?

Humans have enjoyed a very close relationship with the sea.

It’s a food source and it facilitates trade, making connections with other nations.

However, we have also created a sizable mythology surrounding the sea, from the earliest stories in Western Literature (including the adventures of Odysseus) to modern shark flicks like Jaws.

Exposure to these stories could be one of the factors behind thalassophobia, but there are others.

In fact, there is no single known cause for the condition and experts have hypothesized that it could range from an evolutionary response to childhood trauma.

How Do You Know if You Have Thalassophobia?

Symptoms of thalassophobia include:

  • Constant worrying about the sea
  • A physical or emotional response that doesn’t match the situation (such as panic attacks or other strong physical symptoms even though the actual threat is minimal or non-existent)
  • Panic attacks
  • A sense of imminent doom
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shaking, trembling, and displaying other physical symptoms upon seeing the sea
  • Detachment
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed

What Does The DSM Say About Phobias Thalassophobia?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) states that the following symptoms must be present for an official diagnosis of thalassophobia:

  • A persistent and intense fear of the ocean/deep water
  • The intense fear is with them every time they are exposed to deep water
  • The individual actively avoids open water due to their fear
  • The fear interferes with the individual’s life
  • The intense fear has been present for at least 6 months

If these symptoms ring true for you or you believe that a loved one may be suffering from thalassophobia, you should consult with a mental health professional.

Possible Treatments for Thalassophobia

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for thalassophobia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy works by teaching patients how to recognize disturbing thought patterns and turn them into positive ones.

It’s essentially about reprogramming the brain and it is a proven strategy that works for many mental disorders, including anxiety disorders and phobias.

Exposure therapy has also shown to be effective, although it’s far more controversial than cognitive behavioral therapy and may not work for everyone.

It also needs to be managed very carefully, as it entails “exposing” the patient to their fear in a safe and gentle way, allowing them to get over it.

The idea is that the more they enter the sea or go near it, the more they will realize there is nothing to fear.

Exposure therapy has also been used in a virtual reality setting, providing the patient with the comfort and safety of knowing that they aren’t actually near the sea while simultaneously placing them in a virtual world that represents their fear.

Relaxation techniques, including meditation and deep breathing, may also help, although it really all depends on the severity of the phobia.

In severe cases when the patient is displaying many physical symptoms, medication can be prescribed.

SSRIs, often used to treat depression, have been shown to be effective, as have beta-blockers, which can reduce the heart rate much like the relaxation techniques mentioned above.

How To Overcome Fear Of Swimming In Deep Water

To help get over your fear of swimming in deep water, you want to prepare yourself both physically and mentally.

While the below guidance can be helpful to some we know that there is a broad spectrum when it comes to fear.

Take our advice with a grain of salt.

We are surfers and board sport enthusiasts, not psychiatrists.

If the below is helpful, great.

If not, feel free to disregard it and start at an appropriate place for yourself such as seeking professional mental help.

Mental Preparation

There is one thing we do know.

If you think you can or you can’t do something, you are right.

To put it another way: If you think you can swim in deep water, you can.

If you think you can’t swim in deep water, you can’t.

While a good attitude is critical, you need to back up that attitude with action.

That’s where physical preparation comes in.

Physical Preparation

It boils down to: practice, technique and knowledge of where you are swimming and the conditions of where you are swimming.


If you do anything long enough, you tend to get good at it.

Will you be an expert?

Probably not.

Will you be competent and confident as a result, most likely.

So, put the time in and you will get paid back in skill.


Practicing is one thing.

Practicing the right techniques in order to gain efficiencies is quite another thing.

If you want to be good at swimming consider getting a swim coach.


Understanding the conditions of where you are swimming is critical.

If you are swimming in the deep end of a pool and that gets you fearful, then you may want to work on the mental portion of your fear of swimming in deep water first.

If you are comfortable enough to get into the water, and we are talking about open water like lakes, seas and oceans, then you want to understand tides, rips, how the wind effect surface conditions and currents.

The better you are prepared, the better it will go and the faster you can work through your fear of swimming in deep water.

Also, bring a friend and safety floatation devices.

Mother Nature has a mind of her own and you want to be as safe as possible.

Aquaphobia vs Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia is often confused with aquaphobia, but the former refers to a fear of the ocean and other deep bodies of water while the latter refers to a fear of water in general.

“Aquaphobia” comes from a mixture of Latin and Greek words and literally means “fear of water”.

If we stick with the Greek origins, as is often the case with phobias, the word would be “hydrophobia”.

However, hydrophobia is often used to describe a particular issue that occurs during a rabies infection, and so “aquaphobia” is used to differentiate and refer to a general phobia.

Summary: Thalassophobia

Thalassophobia is a relatively uncommon disorder that can range in severity and affect people of all ages.

Although it’s often described as a fear of the ocean or sea, it applies to all bodies of water and, in many cases, it’s the vastness and unpredictability of these bodies of water that trigger the fear.

If you think that you may have thalassophobia, or you’re worried that it’s impacting the life of a loved one, consult with a mental health professional.

Unfortunately, the solution is rarely as easy as “just stay away from water”, as anxiety symptoms can be present even when there is no water or actual danger.

And even if that was the case, it’s still not healthy to feel terrified every time you visit the beach!

Fortunately, as discussed in this guide, there are support and treatment facilities that can help and methods like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy have proven to be very effective at treating thalassophobia.