What Is Thalassophobia And How Is It Treated?

Updated April 9, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Canyons, underwater cities, and coastal communities can all speak to the power of water and the destruction it can be capable of. Water can be beautiful, too: it is home to some of the most incredible (and some of the strangest) creatures yet found on earth, and it can provide many health benefits to those who live near it. 

Despite all of this, some people experience dread, terror, and even nausea in response to large bodies of water, the ocean especially, and these individuals are said to have thalassophobia or an irrational fear of the sea.

Symptoms of thalassophobia

Are you experiencing symptoms of thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia is a phobia of the sea or other large bodies of water. Like its title, 'phobia' might suggest, thalassophobia is characterized by overwhelming anxiety about the sea or bodies of water. This anxiety can occur when you are near these areas and might preclude anyone with the condition from learning how to swim. This anxiety can also occur when you think of the ocean or another body of water and can even cause panic attacks when you are hundreds of miles away from a large body of water.

Thalassophobia is also characterized by avoidance. Most people with the disorder will avoid the ocean at all costs, going so far as to avoid the news to prevent hearing about any sea-related incidents or living as far from any ocean inlet as possible to minimize symptoms. However, indulging in a phobia this way can have a negative effect by compounding existing fears. Avoiding the ocean and refusing to expose yourself to any form of argument or situation that counters your fears can allow your phobia to grow and can eventually become debilitating when anything involving the sea sets off a stress response or panic attack.

Some people with thalassophobia experience panic attacks even if avoidance is not engaged and might have trouble controlling fear responses when they encounter images of the sea, hear a story involving the ocean, or bear witness to an anecdote about drowning or other water-induced deaths.

What is a phobia?

A phobia differs from fear in that it is persistent, overwhelming, and potentially debilitating. Phobias go beyond typical fear or nervousness because they are usually unfounded in their scope. A fear of spiders, for instance, can be legitimate: many different types of venomous spiders can cause harm to humans and pets. Conversely, a phobia of spiders might mean being frozen in place at the sight of a spider or beset with a pounding heart, fear of death, and similarly disproportionate responses when even the thought of spiders arises. A phobia may alter behavior, such as someone with a phobia of spiders taking elaborate precautions to "spider-proof" their homes.

Irrationality must come into play, to some degree, for fear to qualify as a phobia. This is an important distinction, as fear can be a perfectly normal, healthy response to a threat. Fearing being run over by a car as a vehicle barrels down the road directly toward you can be a legitimate and necessary fear response. Your fear may compel you to get as far away from the car as you can in as little time as possible. 

On the other hand, phobias can be completely irrational and crippling. A phobia of clowns could have you trembling in terror while passing a poster for a circus, despite no clowns being in the immediate area or having no prior negative experience with the performers. A phobia of the ocean could force you to avoid any possible contact with a large body of water, despite the relative safety of coming into contact with a beach in good weather and with company by your side. On the other hand, a phobia might force you to lie awake at night, shaking in terror of marine beasts despite living nowhere near an ocean.

Why does thalassophobia exist?

Like most irrational fears, the exact cause behind the fear of the ocean is not known. The enormity of the ocean's mystery can be overwhelming to contemplate and may result in feelings of fear, dismay, or outright terror.


Family history can also contribute to the onset of thalassophobia. A family history of any form of anxiety disorder can increase the risk of developing a phobia of any kind, including thalassophobia. Anxiety disorders are predicated on the notion that anxiety arises without a definitive catalyst, and phobias are classified as a form of anxiety. A parent, grandparent, or another close family need not have had thalassophobia, specifically, for your risk factors to increase, but if they have a form of anxiety, then it can manifest itself as thalassophobia for you.

Environmental factors can also come into play here: a near-death (or perceived near-death) experience with water can be a catalyst for thalassophobia, particularly if you have existing risk factors, such as a previous anxiety disorder or a family history of anxiety or other mood disorders. Perception is important, too, as someone can have a minor skirmish in water, getting inadvertently dunked underwater and coming up sputtering, for instance, but feel like their life was in danger. Experience need not qualify as a medically supported near-death experience to create a phobia.

How thalassophobia is treated

Is anxiety curable? Phobias are typically treated through psychotherapy, including both Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy. CBT is a therapy modality designed to change the associations created in the brain to improve overall function and decrease anxiety and depression. Often considered the most common form of psychotherapy, CBT has a demonstrated history of efficacy in treating various mental health issues and disorders, including phobias. In fact, studies show that online CBT, in particular, like that offered at Regain, can be extremely effective in treating phobias like a phobia of the ocean. Online therapy comes with other added benefits as well, such as its convenience, affordability, and accessibility.

Exposure Therapy is similar because it seeks to change your perceptions and improve how you think, perceive, and function. Unlike CBT, however, Exposure Therapy exposes you to the source of your anxiety, fear, or phobia and allows you to work through what you feel in a safe, controlled environment. Ideally, over time and with enough consistency and encouragement, your phobic symptoms may grow less intense, and you can function in the face of a phobia-or, in this case, you can function when thinking about, looking at, or even being in the sea.

Are you experiencing symptoms of thalassophobia?

Meditation has also been demonstrated to affect anxiety positively and could be helpful as a supplemental tool for thalassophobia. Although meditating alone is unlikely to mitigate the symptoms of a phobia, it can help you create more effective breathing techniques that can allow your body to remain calm in the face of anxiety and terror.

Most anxiety treatments effectively limit the symptoms of intense anxiety, and the same is true of thalassophobia; with regular treatment, dedication, and consistency, many patients experience a reduction in their phobia, even if the phobia does not disappear altogether.


The fear of the ocean can often feel like a legitimate one. Waves, riptides, and storms can be very dangerous. Plus, there is still so much that is unknown about the ocean, including all of the creatures within it and exactly how everything functions in the deepest portions of it. The ocean has long been host to mysteries, whether it is the mystery of Amelia Earhart, the overwhelming behavior of the Bermuda Triangle, or the seemingly never-ending discovery of new ocean species. Thinking about the vast expanse of the ocean can be overwhelming. When this overwhelm becomes problematic or debilitating, though, thalassophobia arises, and treatment may become a necessity.

Just as most anxiety disorders are treated via therapy and, in some cases, lifestyle changes, thalassophobia can be treated and eventually overcome. Fear of the ocean is not usually a significant problem. Still, a phobia of the ocean or any other large body of water can prove extremely problematic. Learning how to manage the symptoms of thalassophobia can be the best way to move forward without living in fear or constant upset.

Therapeutic interventions run the gamut but can include group therapy, in-office therapy, and online therapy. Each of these delivery methods has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and finding the right method for you could be a matter of trial and error. Whichever route you take, take heart: thalassophobia can be treated and does not have to dominate your thoughts and feelings for the rest of your life.

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