Thalassophobia (fear of the sea or the ocean): symptoms, causes and treatment

Although man is an animal species adapted to terrestrial life, seas and oceans are very present in our lives.

The simple fact that most of our planet’s surface is covered with seawater means that we have to adapt to the presence of these large liquid surfaces, large masses that can be used for navigation and for finding natural resources. ., But that in some contexts can be a threat.

In this article, we’ll talk about the side of the ocean that we experience with the greatest sense of danger and anxiety: thalassophobia.

    What is thalassophobia?

    The concept of thalassophobia refers to a specific type of phobia in which what produces extreme fear is the ocean or the sea. That is, a person suffering from this mental disorder will feel dread and great anxiety at the mere exposure to this environment, sometimes even if they are not close to the truth and are simply watching a video in which they appear … huge body of water.

    In case of phobia, this level of discomfort should be clinically meaningful (Which means that there is a clear and obvious degradation in his quality of life which prevents him from doing a lot of things and often causes him pain) and appears in contexts where the ocean or the sea does not present a reasonable danger. The goal.

    Obviously, if we are about to fall by the keel of a ship, surely we will feel the terror, but people with thalassophobia feel the same way just gazing at the ocean or a similar body of water. As the anxiety disorder that is thalassophobia, its mechanisms go beyond rationality.


      As we have seen, thalassophobia is a specific phobia that arises when the subject is exposed to stimuli that is interpreted as the signal that an ocean or sea is nearby (or when they directly see these planes of water). Otherwise, their differences from other phobias of this type disappear, which means that the symptoms are typical of these anxiety disorders and only what triggers them varies.

      In summary, we can say that the main symptoms of thalassophobia are: tachycardia, sweating, tremors, catastrophic thoughts, stress attack, Loss of control over one’s own movements and a great sense of danger.

      At the neurobiological level, this state of unjustified alert involves the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the person to react to the slightest stimulus and predisposes to the behavioral reaction of flight.

      At the behavioral level, the person tends to react in two ways: Flee uncontrollably and almost automatically, and avoid exposure to phobic stimulus to avoid the appearance of these anxiety attacks when faced with the real or fictitious presence of the ocean.

      the causes

      As with other phobias, there is no clear cause for thalassophobia, but rather a multiplicity of factors that can lead to its occurrence.

      We must first consider the possibility of having had traumatic experiences. These are experiences in which a very unpleasant emotional imprint is associated with a variety of stimuli which, being perceived, can trigger in real time the experience of a physiological and emotional state similar to what was felt in the original traumatic experience.

      For example, being on the verge of drowning or having lost a loved one in this way can predispose you to this anxiety disorder. In addition, the biological aspect must be taken into account, and more specifically genetic predispositions to react with large amounts of anxiety in situations where it is believed that there is or will be a loss of control. In phobias, one of the most common stress mechanisms is the expectation of suffering from an anxiety attack, which generates a self-fulfilling prophecy loop effect and this unpleasant and expected experience just happens to be one. reality.

        Differences from other similar anxiety disorders

        There are two phobias that resemble thalassophobia: bathophobia, or fear of the depths, and hydrophobia, or fear of water. Although in practice it is very common for the stimuli that trigger them to be almost the same, there are nuances to consider.

        Thalassophobia occurs in the presence of the real or imagined presence of seas and oceans, that is, bodies of water that normally extend to the horizon, and that we can feel very close even though we are separated by miles from its shore. The fear is in these bodies of water themselves, however deep they are.

        In hydrophobia, on the other hand, fear is in the water, which can appear very far from seas and oceans: for example, in caves, restaurants, swimming pools, taps, lakes, etc.

        In bathophobia, what generates terror is the notion of depth. That is to say the feeling that there is a mass of matter of precarious stability which separates us from the bottom of an abyss. This experience can appear in the sea, but also in the snow, in the sand or even in a ball pool.


          Fortunately, thalassophobia has a good prognosis in most cases, as specific phobias they respond very well to psychological treatment. After several sessions and certain activities to be carried out independently, most of the cases in which this type of anxiety disorder occurs give way to a relatively rapid improvement, to the point where the level of anxiety caused by the phobic stimulus ceases to be. clinically significant.

          One of the techniques most used by psychologists to treat thalassophobia is the exhibition, Which consists in exposing the subject to what frightens him in a controlled way, and to set a series of objectives. As we progress, the difficulty of these experiences increases, which in most cases occur under the direct supervision of the mental health professional.

          You can work using real landscapes in which there is sea or ocean, or simulations experimented with virtual reality glasses, although at first it is also common to use only the imagination.

          Bibliographical references:

          • Robert Jean Campbell (2009). Campbell Psychiatric Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 375.
          • Snyder, Kari (2003). “Attack of the Water Monster”. Pleasure cruising. New York: Hachette Filipacchi Media. 76 (4): 44.
          • Robert Jean Campbell (2009). Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 375.

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