You Might Have This Obscure Phobia—and Not Even Know It

Updated: Nov. 04, 2020

The ocean is very deep and very dark. Does that scare you?

When you swim in the ocean, do you avoid going out too far in the water? Do you think there are monstrous sea creatures underneath? Chances are, if you have a fear of deep water, you suffer from a phobia called thalassophobia. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of this; here are other strange phobias you didn’t know existed.

What exactly is thalassophobia?

Thalassophobia, according to Aniesa Hanson, PhD, a licensed counselor at Aniesa Hanson Counseling in Tampa, Florida, isn’t really about the water itself. “This phobia isn’t just the fear of water but the fear of the vast emptiness of large bodies of water and the creatures that live in it,” she says. “This phobia can involve swimming in the water, traveling on the water, or the thought of being far away from land while in the water.”

Why do people develop phobias?

Chances are, you’ve heard of people who fear spiders, certain numbers, or crowds. If you don’t have a fear of deep water, but you’re curious about your specific fear, check out what your phobia reveals about your personality. Many fears are actually common, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).  After all, most people are able to acknowledge a fear, then move on. But the ADAA explains that this may become an issue when your fear turns into a full-fledged specific phobia (“strong irrational fear reactions”). When this happens, your phobia may impede your ability to function as usual.

“Fear triggers a natural fight or flight response allowing the body to quickly react to a threat,” Dr. Hanson says. “Under normal circumstances, this fear trigger corresponds to the threat level. When a fear trigger over-responds due to insufficient coping skills, it can develop into a phobia.” She explains that the majority of phobias develop in childhood, “due to a maladaptive response to a specific thing or situation.” Unfortunately, she says that coping in this manner can increase stress and anxiety levels.

When thalassophobia becomes a problem

If your fear of what’s lurking under the water prevents you from going about your usual activities or perhaps enjoying a beach vacation, then it can be considered problematic. The ADAA notes that “having phobias can disrupt daily routines, limit work efficiency, reduce self-esteem, and place a strain on relationships because people will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable and often terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.” When your irrational fears alter your life so greatly, it can jeopardize friendships, work successes, and much more.

Physical response to phobias

If you have a phobia like thalassophobia, your body and mind react a certain way. In other words, it goes beyond feeling nervous or anxious. Dr. Hanson explains that having a phobia, such as a fear of deep water, results in intense physical and psychological reactions including—but not limited to—increased heart rate, nausea, insomnia, persistent worrisome thoughts, and an inability to concentrate.

When to seek help

“The response to a phobia is so intense that it can impact your ability to function,” says Dr. Hanson. “In certain cases, these symptoms can be experienced by merely thinking about the specific thing or seeing a picture of it.” However, there are ways to help you manage your phobia, which the American Psychological Association (APA) says is a type of anxiety disorder. “If you’re struggling with an irrational fear there’s hope to combat it,” Dr. Hanson adds. “Cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy have been shown to effectively treat phobias. Even if you don’t know the cause of your phobia, you can treat a phobia rapidly and successfully.” According to the APA, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is “highly effective at treating anxiety disorders.” CBT is a kind of psychotherapy that helps patients identify and manage the factors that lead to anxieties. Now that you know about the phobia or fear of deep water, learn about these tips for managing anxiety and panic disorder.