Thalassophobia: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Thalassophobia is the fear of deep, vast waters, such as the sea or ocean, generally due to its size, unfamiliarity and possible dangers. This phobia can lead to abnormal stress and anxiety when in beach or cruise environments.

Thalassophobia is a type of anxiety disorder that can cause excessive worry, distress or restlessness in situations that involve the ocean. In more serious cases, it can also cause shortness of breath and chest pain, and may lead to an anxiety attack.

If you suspect you may have thalassophobia, it is important to consult a psychiatrist for assessment and treatment as necessary. Treatment usually involves psychotherapy which is aimed at helping helping the paitent to cope with situations that trigger symptoms.

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Common symptoms

The main signs and symptoms of thalassophobia are:

  • Excessive worrying or intense restlessness every time you see, think about or are in the ocean
  • Avoiding environments or activities that involve the sea, such as going to the beach, diving, boat trips or water sports;
  • Not being able to stop thinking about uncomfortable situations when seeing the ocean or the possibility of encountering one.

These symptoms can be accompanied by a racing heart, difficulty concentrating, excessive sweating and body tremors.

In more serious cases, shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness and even fainting may also occur, which may be a sign of an anxiety attack.

Also recommended: Stress vs. Anxiety: Difference Between Symptoms & Consequences

Often, people with thalassophobia may choose to miss work, classes or other commitments if there is a possibility of seeing, thinking about or being at sea. They also tend to move to regions far from beaches and large volumes of water.

Confirming a diagnosis

A thalassophobia diagnosis is normally confirmed by a psychiatrist who will assess the person's symptoms, how frequenly they occur, how intense they are and when they are triggered. The doctor will also consider how these symptoms influence the person's life.

Possible causes

Thalassophobia does not have a specific cause, but it seems to be more common when someone has experienced a trauma related to the ocean, such as drowning or boat accidents, or because they have witnessed reactions of fear or panic from other people in these situations. 

Generally, fear increases as the person approaches the ocean, and the reason behind it is not always understood by the person themselves.

Treatment options

Treatment for thalassophobia is similar to other phobias and generally involves psychotherapy, mainly cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy is aimed at helping the person to better cope with situations that trigger symptoms. 

Other forms of treatment may involve hypnosis, group therapy and the use of virtual reality technologies, as a way for the person to gradually interact with the stimulus that triggers fear and learn to better evaluate the situations that provoke it.

Although it is not common, the use of medications, such as beta-blockers or benzodiazepines, can be useful in more intense cases of thalassophobia to prevent psychological symptoms, however this will depend on the psychiatrist's assessment and recommendation.