Thalassophobia is an intense phobia or fear of large or deep water. If you have thalassophobia, you may be afraid of the ocean, sea, and large lakes.

Some people may deal with a little anxiety about the ocean. But for others being afraid of the sea can be a bigger problem. If your phobia of the sea is so persistent and intense that it affects your way of life, you may have thalassophobia.

The meaning of thalassophobia

The word thalassophobia comes from the Greek word thalassa, meaning sea, and the word phobos, meaning fear.

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Having a specific phobia affects an estimated 5 to 10 percent of people in the United States. Some phobias peak when you’re a child and resolve as you grow older, but others can peak in adulthood.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms and causes of thalassophobia, along with treatment options for overcoming your fear of the ocean.

When you have a specific phobia like a fear of the ocean, you may feel an intense fear of something even at moments when it may not pose a danger to you. Your body may respond to seeing or being near a large body of water by triggering severe symptoms of anxiety.

Having a phobia is an anxiety disorder. Thalassophobia symptoms can be similar to those of anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

Thalassophobia can negatively affect your quality of life.

Sometimes the symptoms of thalassophobia can be more severe and may cause a panic attack.

How do I know if I’m experiencing a panic attack?

Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly, with symptoms peaking within minutes. During a panic attack, you may experience:

  • heart palpitations
  • excessive sweating
  • shaking
  • sudden shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • feeling of impending doom
  • feeling of losing control
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If you have a fear of the ocean, feelings of anxiety can show up at any time when you think of, go to, or see the ocean. For example, they may appear when you’re near a beach or driving past the ocean. They can occur when you’re flying over the ocean in a plane.

Depending on the severity of your thalassophobia, you may experience anxiety when looking at an ocean photograph or even hearing the word “ocean.”

A 2014 study about a different phobia — arachnophobia, a fear of spiders — aimed to measure the threat levels experienced by those with the phobia compared with those without. Participants looked at images of spiders, other animals, and foods. Researchers found that those with the specific phobia of spiders saw the images of spiders as a more significant threat than those without arachnophobia.

This suggests that for people with a specific phobia, even seeing images of the object of their phobia may trigger feelings of anxiety.

There are various reasons why someone may develop a fear of the ocean.

A bad experience with water may lead to a fear response and phobia. For instance, if you nearly drowned while swimming in a lake or saw a shark in the ocean, you may develop an intense fear.

Phobias can also develop without any experience or trauma. These types of non-experiential phobias may develop from the following causes:

  • Genetic factors. A 2015 review of research suggests that anxiety disorders, such as having specific phobias, may be inherited to a moderate extent. However, larger studies and additional research are needed to further support this.
  • Environmental factors. Hearing about or experiencing traumatic events in large bodies of water, such as a drowning in the ocean, may contribute to someone developing thalassophobia.
  • Biological factors. If the brain has a dysfunction in processing fear, it may be easier for a phobia like thalassophobia to develop.

Another contributing factor specific to thalassophobia may be a fear of the unknown. When a person doesn’t have enough information or cannot control a situation or environment, it can cause fear and anxiety. Some people may be more sensitive to unknown experiences.

Scientists suggest that a fear of the sea may be primal rather than irrational, especially when thinking about the deep sea. They suggest that when thinking about places people haven’t experienced, like the ocean and the deep sea, imagination can take over.

However, if your fear is severe and disrupts your daily life, consider talking with a mental health professional who can help you manage or overcome your phobia.

If you believe you may have a specific phobia, the first step toward overcoming your phobia is to visit a doctor. A primary care doctor may perform tests to rule out a physical illness.

A doctor will likely perform an evaluation involving the following:

  • physical exam
  • review of medical history
  • review of symptoms
  • lab tests

Lab tests help the doctor rule out other conditions that mimic similar symptoms, such as hyperthyroidism or heart disease.

You may be then referred to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional for a diagnosis. They will determine whether your anxiety meets the criteria for a specific phobia outlined in the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

According to these guidelines, the object or situation of the specific phobia must:

  • almost always cause marked fear or anxiety
  • cause anxiety that’s not proportionate to the danger of the object or situation
  • cause avoidance or endurance with extreme anxiety and discomfort
  • cause significant distress or impair your ability to function in important areas of your life
  • cause anxiety that’s persistent, lasting 6 months or more
  • not be better explained by another mental health condition

Overcoming your fear of the ocean can be possible with proper treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for overcoming a specific phobia, such as a fear of the ocean. In a therapy session, a mental health professional may help gradually desensitize you to the presence of large bodies of water.

They may begin with less anxiety-inducing triggers, such as images of calm water, while helping reinforce the idea that the ocean and other large bodies of water are safe. Then, they work with you to develop coping mechanisms and teach you relaxation techniques.

They may use another technique known as flooding. With this treatment, they work to increase your exposure to large bodies of water to reduce your fear and decrease your anxiety.

Eventually, it may even mean visiting a beach or dipping your toes in the ocean with a professional at your side. Over time, this type of safe exposure can help reduce your overall fear of the sea.


Medications may also be able to help treat anxiety symptoms.

Antianxiety medications may help reduce the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety. They are typically prescribed for severe anxiety that impairs someone’s ability to function.

Benzodiazepines are medications that may be effective in the short-term reduction of symptoms. However, doctors may prescribe these medications only in severe circumstances since they carry a high risk of dependency.

Natural remedies

Some natural remedies and techniques may also help reduce your anxiety or calm you down. They can include:

Virtual reality exposure therapy

Some newer methods may also be used to treat phobias, such as virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET). This type of therapy can provide controlled and gradual exposure to the object of your phobia while allowing for an immersive experience.

However, since VRET is relatively new, more research is needed to determine how effective it is.

Online therapy options

Depending on your circumstances, virtual therapy may be an accessible option for people with a phobia of the ocean.

Please read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.

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Anxiety disorders like thalassophobia may make life challenging, but there are things you can do to help prevent anxiety attacks if you have this condition.

Identify and manage your triggers

It’s a good idea to be mindful of your stressors to avoid experiences that lead to anxiety.

If you drive by a lake on your way to work, consider an alternate route until you have progressed in overcoming your phobia. Likewise, if your friends want to go to the beach on vacation, you can suggest an alternative location.

Prioritize your health and wellness

Regular exercise and a balanced diet may help reduce symptoms of anxiety. In addition, a wellness routine could prevent stress or irritability.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

Sometimes it may feel some substances like drugs and alcohol temporarily relieve your anxiety symptoms. However, they can actually make things worse while also disrupting your sleep. This can lead to more stress.

Follow the guidance of a mental health professional

Mental health professionals have experience helping people overcome anxiety disorders and phobias. Progressing in your therapy may help reduce your thalassophobia.

If you have a fear of the ocean or any other phobia that impacts your quality of life, your first step is to talk with a doctor or a mental health professional. If you don’t already have one, the Healthline Find Care tool can show options for healthcare professionals in your area.

If you’re struggling with your mental health due to your phobia, these organizations can help:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI has a phone and text crisis line.
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIH): The NIH has a complete list of immediate and long-term help resources.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free 24/7 resource to help people in a crisis.

Another way to get support is by talking with your loved ones. One in 5 adults living in the United States experiences a form of mental illness every year. Support from others may help you cope with thalassophobia while you work to manage and overcome your phobia.

Thalassophobia, or a fear of the ocean, is a specific phobia that can negatively affect your quality of life. If you need help overcoming your fear of the sea, a mental health professional can help.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a treatment option for thalassophobia along with exposure therapy. Both treatments have a high success rate. In addition, treating your fear of the ocean can help restore your quality of life in time.