Kyphophobia (fear of sea waves): symptoms, causes and treatment

There are as many phobias as there are objects or situations in the world. There are some phobias that are more common than others, and some are really weird. In this article, we bring you cymophobia, which consists of intense and irrational fear in the waves of the sea.

Water phobia is quite common because, although it is an element that can be harmless, it can also cause damage (accidents, drownings, etc.). In this article, we explain what cymophobia is and what are its symptoms, causes and treatments.

    Kyphophobia: irrational fear of waves

    Kyphophobia is a specific phobia, that is, an anxiety disorder. It is characterized by intense, disproportionate and irrational fear of sea waves and wave movements.

    Kyphophobia is linked to other similar types of phobia, such as aquaphobia (fear of water), bathophobia (fear of depths), thalassophobia (fear of large bodies of water), and ablutophobia ( intense fear in the water of daily cleaning).

    While it is true that water phobia is quite a common phobia (especially in childhood), wave phobia is less common. You could say that cymophobia is a variant of water phobia.

    This fear of sea waves can be explained by the fear, even more internal, of being devoured by one of them (for example surfing, or in “normal” situations of swimming in the sea).

    Fear of water

    As we said, water phobia is quite a common phobia, especially among children. It is actually not that “weird” to have a water phobia, as it is a stimulus that can become threatening or can cause damage (think drowning, for example).

    Also, in the news it is very common to hear news of people drowning on beaches and at swimming pools (especially young children).

    In the case of cymophobia, fear arises in the water as an environmental element (I.e. sea water, for example). More precisely, fear occurs when facing the waves of the sea. It is curious because water is an element that can arouse at the same time fascination, curiosity and admiration, as well as fear.


    The symptoms of cymophobia are the same as those of a specific phobia. Those that we propose are in the DSM-5 (in the diagnostic criteria of a specific phobia). Let’s see them in detail.

    1. Intense fear of waves

    The main symptom is a fear, anxiety, or intense fear at the possibility of seeing or “touching” waves. The swell and its undulating movements arouse this fear, which also results in physical symptoms (tachycardia, sweating, tension, dizziness, nausea, hyperactivation, etc.). and psychological (irrational ideas associated with waves).

    2. Interference

    In order to be able to diagnose cymophobia as such, this fear associated with the phobia must interfere with the life of the individual. In other words, the daily life of the person is affected by this fear. This translates, for example, to stop making plans that involve seeing sea waves (avoidance).

    3. Avoidance

    Thus, in cymophobia the person avoids the stimulus that triggers their anxiety: the waves. This means that he stops going to the beach even if he wants to, and that in case he has to expose yes or yes to the stimulus, he resists it with great anxiety.

    4. Duration of 6 months

    To be able to diagnose cymophobia, as in all specific phobias, symptoms should last at least 6 months.

    the causes

    The causes of cymophobia can be various. Let’s take a look at the most common below.

    1. Traumatic experiences with waves

    One of the most likely causes of cymophobia is the fact having lived a traumatic situation with the waves, For example: injuring yourself with a wave (surfing for example), drowning with one of them, being about to die, etc.

    2. Proxy conditioning

    Vicarious conditioning is seeing other people receive certain (usually negative) consequences for their actions. In the case of cymophobia, you might think of a lifeguard who sees people every day who are about to drown in the waves, or who are just injured by one of them.

    Obviously, you don’t have to be a lifeguard to “learn” this phobia through proxy conditioning; people who just see other people hurt themselves with them can also develop cymophobia.

    This includes watching the news of drowning people (even without waves); in the end, these are fears related to water (in particular sea water), and end up fearing the sea itself, or the water itself, and in extension, the waves.

    3. Personal vulnerability

    The vulnerability to suffering from certain mental disorders has been widely studied. This has also been done with anxiety disorders, finding that there are people who show a certain individual vulnerability to suffering from an anxiety disorder; this can be extrapolated to specific phobias, in this case cymophobia.

    So, there are people who, due to their personal, genetic, endocrine, etc. characteristics are more likely to develop such a disorder. If we also have first-degree relatives with cymophobia, it could be that our likelihood of suffering from it also increases (although a priori there are no studies to determine this).


    What treatment (s) are there for this phobia? As in all specific phobias, in psychotherapy we can speak of two main treatments (and first choice).

    1. Cognitive therapy

    Cognitive therapy allows the patient to adjust their catastrophic thoughts to reality. These thoughts on cymophobia are generally of the type: “I’m going to hurt myself”, “this wave will make me drown”, “the sea is not a safe place”, etc.

    With cognitive therapy (through cognitive restructuring techniques), you can work with this type of thinking, so that the patient has more adaptive, realistic and reliable thoughts. Although water can cause tragedies, it is up to the patient to understand that this is not always the case.

    Through cognitive therapy (along with behavioral therapy), we also seek to have the patient acquire coping strategies to cope with situations of high anxiety caused by the waves. This is also done through the following processing (exposure techniques).

    2. Exhibition

    In exposure therapy, the patient with cymophobia is gradually exposed to the feared stimulus, that is to say to waves (through a hierarchy of items classified from the lowest to the highest anxiety). generate).

    Early elements may involve seeing seawater from a distance, and gradually including and addressing those elements that involve more interaction with the feared stimulus.

    Bibliographical references:

    • American Psychiatric Association -APA- (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.

    • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Flight. 1 and 2. Madrid. 21st century (chapters 1-8, 16-18).

    • Pérez, M., Fernández, JR, Fernández, C. and Amic, I. (2010). Guide to effective psychological treatments I and II :. Madrid: Pyramid.

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